The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Pianist Maurizio Pollini’s new Chopin CD offers brilliant playing but an oddly chosen, uninspired retread

April 10, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

Usually, I find, you either really like pianist  Maurizio Pollini (below) or you really dislike him.

If you are the former, you find him technically superb and interpretatively original without being distorting. If you belong to the latter camp, you find him cold, dry and intellectual.

I confess: I am generally an admirer.

And he has been a major exponent of Chopin, ever since 1960 when he won the first Chopin Competition at 18.

But I have mixed feeling about his new CD of Chopin, done for Deutsche Grammophon, that has been culled from previous releases over some 30-plus years.

I much prefer his all-Chopin recital from two years ago. It mixed a ballade, an impromptu and the “Funeral March” sonata with three waltzes and four mazurkas, all from the Op. 30s, which provided a certain comparative consistency.

But how did they arrive at this one? Apparently Pollini himself did the choosing, in part to support all the all-Chopin recitals he is playing, including one this Sunday afternoon at 3 in Chicago at Orchestra Hall.

I love Pollini’s readings of the etudes, more than anyone else’s recording.

But why did he choose the last three of Op. 25? Sure, they are big and virtuosic (the Octave etude, the Winter Wind etude and the Ocean etude for arpeggios) but a better bouquet would have drawn from Op. 10 and from some slower more soulful etudes, which can be so musical as well as technically innovative. The last three? Seems odd to me.

There is the F Minor Ballade (great choice, though I also love the No. 2) and the popular Scherzo No. 2. (I would have preferred him in No. 3 or 4.)

One inspired choice is the three great waltzes, Op. 34.

There are too many polonaises for my taste, including the overplayed “Heroic,” Op. 53, a public favorite. The Op. 44 and the Polonaise-Fantaisie are otherwise great. But do we need both? The latter would be fine by me.

But where are the other miniatures that are so quintessentially Chopin?

Some nocturnes?

And especially some new recordings of mazurkas?

I am glad he didn’t excerpt the preludes, which is he playing in Chicago. (He is also playing two nocturnes and the Ballade no. 1 and Scherzo No. 1 — none of which is on this CD.) But this CD — which nonetheless has fabulous playing — just seems too redundant to me.

Overall, this anthology seems lazy and uninspired in its total concept for such a prolific, original and accomplished artist. I wish he had done a brand new recording to mark the Chopin Year – and especially a continuation of his chronological format, maybe from the Op. 40s, or the really late Chopin works, like Stephen Hough and Maria Joao Pires have done, or maybe the complete or selected mazurkas.

In any case, I wanted something new from such a great or at least formidable  Chopinist, not just a re-release of tidbits and favorites.

What do you think?

Do you like Pollini and his Chopin?

His new Chopin anthology CD?

What would you like to hear him record?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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