Pollini’s Uneven Late Chopin

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 6

Sound Quality: 8

Maurizio Pollini’s recent Chopin Second Sonata and Op. 28 Preludes remakes were generally inferior to his first recordings of these works. The same holds true for his new Barcarolle and Polonaise-Fantasie: they are faster, less flexible, less dramatic, less technically sparkling, less firmly etched, and less texturally varied than his first Deutsche Grammophon versions. Just compare the relatively congested and impatiently urgent codas to the poise and sharper sculpting of the earlier counterparts, and you’ll hear what I mean.

By contrast, Chopin’s Op. 62 Nocturnes are similar to those in Pollini’s 2005 complete Chopin Nocturnes cycle. If anything, the B major’s trills take on a more muted, sexier aura this time around, although I prefer the earlier E major’s broader tempo and inner calm.

A selection of Chopin Mazurkas and Waltzes are new to Pollini’s studio discography. Pollini’s Op. 59 and Op. 63 Mazurkas hardly represent the last word in charm and piquancy, yet his pointing up of inner lines and his spontaneous-sounding stresses and accentuations remind us how this genre lends itself to a wide range of interpretations. Only the foursquare and pounded-out B major from Op. 63 disappoints.

Given Pollini’s erstwhile perfectionist reputation, his “Minute Waltz” comes off strangely casual and occasionally rushed–no match for the finesse of Tharaud and Rubinstein. The C-sharp minor Op. 64 No. 2 only sings forth in the central major-key episode, while the A-flat Op. 64 No. 3 unfolds in fits and starts and never gets off the ground. Pollini concludes with a tonally attractive yet prosaically literal rendition of the F minor Mazurka Op. 64 No. 4. In sum, the unflappable, steel-edged control that made Pollini a modern-day piano icon is only intermittently evident throughout this uneven release.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Polonaise-Fantasie: Horowitz (Sony), Barcarolle: Rubinstein (RCA), Mazurkas: Barbosa-Lima (Centaur), Nocturnes: Moravec (Supraphon), Waltzes: Tharaud (Harmonia Mundi)

    Barcarolle Op. 60; Mazurkas Op. 59; Polonaise-Fantasie Op. 61; Nocturnes Op. 62; Mazurkas Op. 63; Waltzes Op. 64; Mazurka Op. 68 No. 4
  • Maurizio Pollini (piano)

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