Tuesday 30 September 2008

Mesmerizing Maurizio Pollini recital in Tivoli, Copenhagen

Maurizio Pollini, piano. Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. September 14th 2008.

I may as well make my position clear from the start: Maurizio Pollini is quite simply the greatest pianist alive.

Last year I was lucky enough to get a free ticket to his all-Chopin recital in Salzburg. This year I missed his Salzburg recital by one day, chosing to attend the Bayreuth Parsifal instead. Which, of course, was a mistake. In the Copenhagen Tivoli Gardens Pollini played Beethoven and Liszt (programme below). Maurizio Pollini has a reputation for turning out performances of widely varying quality, though when everything clicks, as it did here, it is a truly revelatory experience.

It has repeatedly been brought forward, also in the Tivoli programme notes, that Maurizio Pollini shares his concert fees 50-50 with his piano tuner. Really? 50-50? That must be one billionaire piano tuner..

From the start it was clear thatPollini was top-motivated. And the handful of wrong right-hand notes in The Tempest strangely enough only underscored how superb he was. The Appassionata was staggering. I have never heard such powerful Beethoven, on CD or live. That is, powerful without ever loosing grip of the underlying structure of the music, emphasizing the contrapunctual structures. It is simply grandiose. I was rather suprised, though, at how much he uses the pedal, especially in The tempest to make almost atonal harmonies.

There is nothing cold about Pollini´s interpretations. Luckily, there is nothing sentimental about him either. He simply swipes away all the dust from whatever pieces he is playing so only the core remains. I´ve always discarded Chopin as a sentimental composer. Until I one day stumbled upon Maurizio Pollini´s recording of some of the Ballades. In Copenhagen, he only played Chopin in the encores, with a shattering performance of The Revolutionary Study, an encore he also played last year in Salzburg.

Maurizio Pollini simply has a piano technique to die for. In a way it´s rather encouraging that this 65-year old is still able to play all the 20-something piano miracles under the table. Not only because he is a superior interpreter. But his core qualifications - i.e. the technique - is better as well. I´ve never heard so perfectly smooth runs as the ones he made in the Appassionata. Though technical virtuosity has never been a goal for him, just a necessary means to convey the deeper meaning of the music. It´s one of his most distinctive qualities, that he just seems to know how a piano works. If Pollini would ever performe the complete Beethoven sonatas in 1-2 weeks it would be worth travelling across the world to hear (unfortunately he won´t do that ).

I would think someone who plays the piano like this would be a superb conductor. Perhaps he is ultimately not extrovert enough to conduct. But then, Carlos Kleiber, not exactly famous for his informative interviews, seemed to do just fine...

Rather unusual for Danish audiences, he was greeted with immediate standing ovations after the Liszt sonata.

Absolutely mesmerizing. One of the handful of best performances I have ever attended. I even forgot to take photographs...


Beethoven: Sonata opus 31 no 2, "The tempest"
Beethoven: Sonate opus 57, f-minor, “Appassionata”
Liszt: Nuages gris
Liszt: Unstern
Liszt: La lugubre gondola – 1st version
Liszt: R.W. – Venezia
Liszt: Sonate, b-minor

Chopin: Prelude (forgot which)
Chopin: Revolutionary Study
Liszt: Trandenscental study no. 10

Overall impression (scale of 1-5, 3=average):


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