Pollini’s Late Chopin Redux

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Maurizio Pollini seems to be chronologically working backward through Chopin’s late piano works, following up his recent disc containing the composer’s Op. 59 through Op. 68 No. 4 with Op. 55 through 58.

The three Op. 56 Mazurkas are new to Pollini’s discography. Subtle, inward shaping of Nos. 1 and 3 continue to reveal this pianist’s affinity for the Mazurka idiom. Less so, however, in No. 2, where Pollini underplays the earthy left-hand drones and dynamic contrasts. Pollini uses a little more rubato in the Op. 55 No. 1 Nocturne’s opening theme than he did in his earlier recording. His left-hand underpinning has loosened somewhat in the agitated central section, while the coda’s ascending fiorituri are less delicately traced this time around. The sublime Op. 55 No. 2 Nocturne remains as stern and straight-jacketed as before, yet Pollini projects the dueting right-hand lines more forcefully now.

Pollini’s earlier Chopin Berceuse featured laser-like clarity in the right-hand legato lines, relegating the left-hand ostinato to the background. Here, however, the ostinato has a stronger lulling presence, but maybe that has to do with the new recording’s ample, less top-heavy sonics. Neither performance matches Murray Perahia’s shimmer and hypnotic long-lined flow.

Given Pollini’s dry, perfunctory treatment of the opening movement in his first Chopin B minor sonata recording, I was rather startled by the pianist’s newfound vehemence, sense of abandon, and emotional engagement, while still keeping the music’s complex contrapuntal layers clear. Pollini’s faster timing for the Largo accounts for a more fluid, flexible, and overtly singing approach now. By contrast, the Scherzo and Finale movements lack the earlier versions’ supple passage-work, rhythmic stability, and consistently crisp left-hand definition.

The 77-year-old Pollini may not be the unflappable pianistic paradigm of his younger years, yet this release proves that he still can rise to the occasion, and even surprise you.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Nocturnes Op. 55: Moravec (Supraphon); Mazurkas Op. 56: Barbosa (Centaur), Berceuse: Perahia (Sony); Sonata: Argerich (DG)

  • CHOPIN, FRÉDÉRIC:
    Nocturnes Op. 55; Mazurkas Op. 56; Berceuse Op. 57; Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58
  • Maurizio Pollini (piano)

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