A monument speaks in Rome today ………….to almost three thousand people in the Sala S.Cecilia that has not seen so many people for a long time.
It was a sign of the love and esteem he commands even now in his eightieth year.
He has given us 60 or more years of performances of integrity,simplicity and honesty as he has put his phenomenal technical gifts at the service of the composer.
It was Rubinstein on the jury of the Chopin competition who declared that this eighteen year old boy played better than any of us.
He is the monumental figure that we music students would refer to in order to hear the printed page come to life with an intellectual rigour that excluded any demonstrative personal distortions.
He together with Brendel were the icons that shone brightly over the more individual stylists whose personal interpretations whilst adding a different more personal point of view took us into an outward rather than inward approach to the greatest works of the piano literature.
Monuments cast shadows and the greater the monument the greater the shadow.
It was the shadow that we celebrated tonight ……but what a shadow!
Having changed his programme from the Schumann Fantasie and the Hammerklavier sonata for intellectual or physical reasons was of absolutely no importance for us mortals.
We that sat at his feet today in awe of pianist who could command our total attention for an hour long first half with Beethoven’s most problematic sonata op 101 followed by one of the pinnacles of the romantic piano repertoire the Fantasie in C op 17 by Schumann.Preceeding the Beethoven with a Bagatelle,one of his last works for piano op 126 n.3 in which so little could say so much and prepare us for the mellifluous outpouring of the Sonata that followed.
This was monumental playing of great masculinity and warmth with a symphonic sound that any minor blemishes were of no importance as the great architectural shape was unravelled before us.
But even more importantly the revolutionary character of Beethoven was revealed with warts and all.
Has the Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll ever sounded so profound and involved or the Lehaft second movement suddenly becoming so similar to Schumann’s Massig second movement of the Fantasie?
Whereas Kempff and Lupu got more introspective as they searched for the perfect legato in their Indian summer,Pollini has taken the opposite approach as he completely takes on Beethovens rough exterior.
But of course there is a soulful interior to Beethoven too that we begin to become aware of from op 90 to op 111.
Op.101 is on the tip of the balance and it enough to think that the next sonata is the mighty Hammerklavier op 106 where Beethoven takes the sonata to the limit of one human’s capacity on the piano.
There will be those tonight who will comment that it was massively over pedalled and there were many smudged details but I would suggest that tonight we were in the presence of Beethoven himself who was far from a perfectionist in his lifelong struggle with himself and his physical ailments.
The Chopin Mazurka op 56 n.3 was a whole world in Pollini’s hands from ravishing beauty to intense introspection and stamping of feet.
Ending with two mere gasps of astonishment.Three thousand people were holding their breath indeed.
The Barcarolle – surely Chopin’s most perfect work was played together with the Fourth Ballade and the First Scherzo and were given very masculine no nonsense performances of great power and intellectual prowess.
That an eighty year old man after almost two hours onstage could thank his audience by playing the First Ballade of Chopin was nothing short of a miracle.
It was this conjuror of miracles that the Roman public had bade farewell to COVID worries as they came in their droves to pay homage to a living legend.
It was nice to see the magnificent Fabbrini Steinway on stage and to know that Angelo Fabbrini was with us in the audience having given his priceless contribution to the recital by preparing an instrument fit for a King.
‘To hear the printed score come alive with intellectual rigour’, that phrase conveys so well why I attended Pollini’s recitals. As do your phrases ‘an outward approach’ and ‘taking on Beethoven’s rough exterior’. Thanks Christopher, your writing conveys exactly why Pollini’s many recitals at the RDH so excited me as a young lad learning the repertoire for the first time. And Pollini had to be heard live to witness the long-term build and sheer excitement of his playing, the sometimes hard-edged chords gleaming like copper building blocks as if the composer was with us on the piano stool. Pollini broke through the niceties of remembered music. His recordings often sound two-dimensional stripped of their molten energy. Heard live, Pollini was exciting. I really enjoyed your writing that conveys why, so thanks!’Bob Goldsmith
Many thanks I am glad I could share such sentiments and be understood for what Pollini has meant for us!You write so poetically ‘hard edged chords gleaming like copper building blocks as if the composer was with us on the piano stool’is exactly what he was and a glimpse of a paradise lost is worth its weight in gold not copper!
‘Lovely review of one of the all-time greats.’Hugh Mather ………it was a wonderful occasion even if the twilight of a God