It is cause for celebration by all lovers of great pianism that, after a hiatus to battle cancer, 67-year-old Maurizio Pollini has resumed concretizing and recording. I picked up this CD last fall, after hearing a brilliantly challenging recital by this artist, and while the recording cannot match the glorious excitement of that event, it clearly shows that Pollini’s mastery of Chopin remains profound. These compositions (note the tightly bunched opus numbers) are from 1837-39, Chopin’s fertile mature middle period. With its array of different forms, anchored by the great “Funeral March” Sonata, this CD might well represent an ideal all-Chopin recital.
Pollini’s technical virtuosity clearly remains undiminished by his illness. He is not, perhaps, quite as flashy a player as in his younger years, but his flawless, relaxed articulation at any speed — a quality I find virtually unmatched by other big-time pianists — allows him to illuminate fully the melodic poetry of these gorgeous works.
In any repertoire as well traveled as this, the listener will likely have favorite interpreters of at least some of these works. I will say simply that Pollini is at the highest interpretive level throughout this release. But I do want to point especially to his lucid, tasteful and organically expressive treatment of the “Funeral March” Sonata that caps this program. I have always had a soft spot for the demonic ferocity of Horowitz’ sui generis Columbia LP [now Sony CD] version, but in comparison Pollini comes much closer to the essence of this masterwork.
The only factor that prevents this review being an unmodified rave is the recorded sound. Great piano sound has never been a strength of the DG label, and it is disappointingly ordinary here. The sound isn’t terrible — it is just an O.K. example of the kind of digital recording we hear all too often. Perhaps it would bother me less had I not heard Pollini live so close to heating the CD. But the sound in Chicago’s Symphony Center was much more excitingly dynamic — both softer and louder — and far more subtly colorful than on the CD. I wish it were better, but anyone with any interest in either Chopin or Pollini should nonetheless go and acquire this disc. Pollini’s musical insight and depth of emotion are priceless.