Int. Release 04 Oct. 2005
2 CDs / Download
CD DDD 0289 477 5718 4 GH 2
Maurizio Pollini delivers milestone recording of 19 Chopin nocturnes
. . . intense, serious, and completely thought-through . . . Pollini realizes his conceptions with masterful authority . . .
Pollini's interpretative authority and transcendent technique are well known. What is significant here is the way in which he fine-tunes these to the very special demands of the Nocturnes . . . These are readings that take the long view, are unconcernded with immediate gratification, and bear much repeated listening. Only a great artist can reconcile opposites in the way that Pollini achieves here. He attends to Chopin's exquisite musical surfaces while sounding their depth. His interpretations sound both considered and spontaneous, and are "bien tenues" yet rhythmically supple. His integrative mastery makes this a very important release in the recorded history of the works that above all define Chopin as a supreme lirico-spinto among composers.
. . . when I want to listen to "Nocturnes," this is the set I will turn to . . . technically flawless, but informed with integrity, superb musicianship, subtle rubato and, in the case of the "Nocturnes," romantic drama . . .
. . . one of the composer's top interpreters . . .
This new recording, gleaming with the cool, pearly light of the moon, can sound chilly compared with his earlier, more exuberant effort. Repeated listenings, though, reveal untold riches: the heart-stopping, inward beauty of the main melody¿s first reprise; the velvety gradations of tone Pollini draws from Chopin¿s hypnotically simple left-hand figure; the weightless, diamond-bright glints of sound the pianist summons for the nocturne¿s rapturous flourishes . . . Combining sovereign technique with a clear-eyed but feverish sense of poetry, Pollini¿s Chopin stands as one of a great musician¿s proudest achievements.
While this masterly pianist plays with delicacy and grace when they are called for, he seems intent on conveying the intensity, volatility and complexity of these inventive pieces . . . Mr. Pollini's accounts will leave you moved, stunned and exhausted.
To him they are miniballades, churning with drama and energy, almost martial, attacking our complacent expectations like a sneak attack . . . Pollini reminds us that the night is also a time of anxiety and unlit streets. The dark night of the soul. It is astonishing that Chopin's music hides both possibilities within it; it took Pollini to show us. This is great music with all the dust shaken off.
Pollini is not only one of our greatest living Chopin interpreters but one of a handful whose playing seems truly twined with the composer's intentions . . . Pollini's absolute command is consuming, nerve-sensitive acoustics picking up each subtle graduation and revealing the nocturnes at their richest ¿ lush, but bold.
. . . [er gilt] unbestritten als einer der großen Pianisten unserer Zeit.
Das ist Musik, die dem sensiblen Musiker Pollini entgegenkommt . . . kein anderer weiß der verborgenen inneren Melodie dieser melancholischen Nachtstücke so genau nachzuspüren wie er.
Maurizio Pollini ist einer der ganz Großen und hat Wesentliches zu sagen. So auch in dieser Aufnahme, die in jedem Takt den intelligenten Interpreten und überlegenen Klaviertechniker offenbart.
Auffällig für Pollini war . . . die Schönheit seines Klavierklangs, die bis heute sein Markenzeichen geblieben ist . . . Der ruhelos vorwärts drängende Impuls, der die 30 Jahre zurückliegenden Chopin-Aufnahmen auszeichnet, ist hier nicht mehr zu spüren, aber sein unsentimentales, klares Spiel lebt von einem wunderschönen Klang, den Pollini wie kaum ein anderer Pianist zu erzeugen weiß und der, vielfältiger aufgefächert als früher, diese Interpretation der Nocturnes trägt.
Erneut erweist sich Pollini als souveräner Techniker, der die vom italienischen Belcanto geprägten Melodielinien dieser elegischen "Nachtstücke" mit sachtem Nachdruck hervorzuheben versteht und ihre filigrane Ornamentik nicht als virtuosen Zierrat, sondern als Teil der musikalischen Struktur begreiflich macht.
Maurizio Pollini hat als Sechziger zu einem Klavierspiel gefunden, das an klanglicher Opulenz schwerlich zu überbieten ist. Bei der Ausbalancierung der musikalischen Elemente dominieren inzwischen Fülle und Farbtiefe eindeutig über Zeichnung und Melodik . . . Wundervoll.
Der große Maurizio Pollini hat noch nie die Musik an den Effekt verraten, und unbestechlich legt er nun auch die Nocturnes von Frederic Chopin in einer Doppel-CD vor . . . So folgt man Pollini am Klavier durch die Nacht. Sie leuchtet in allen Schattierungen, sanft, lyrisch, verträumt, spukt geisterhaft vorüber, kann Dramatik gewinnen, ist groß in ihrem Ernst und dann wieder von betörendem Duft. Pollini ist hinreißend, unsentimental wie immer, hochvirtuos, ohne die Brillanz nach vorne zu schieben und in seinem langen, natürlichen Atem ungemein reich an Gefühlsnuancen.
. . . on sera fasciné par la façon qu'a le pianiste italien de créer discrètement des climats pour chaque paire ou triptyque, et de toujours mettre en valeur l'évolution de l'harmonie et du contrepoint . . . Maurizio Pollini réussit encore une fois ce miracle de parvenir, par un effacement total de soi et une immense rigueur, sans aucun artifice de sonorité ni recherche de séduction, à une interprétation d'une vérité singulière, rendant une totale justice à ces textes et aux mystères qu'ils recèlent.
. . . la grande esperienza accumulata in quarant'anni di riflessioni ha consentito a Pollini di restituire il colore autentico della Parigi di Balzac e di Gautier, che si anima di figure fantasmagoriche e di ricordi misteriosi nelle musiche notturne di Chopin . . . Per ogni Notturno Pollini sembra trovare il nodo di una questione irrisolta, che si presenta al nostro ascolto in tutta la sua palpitante vitalitá. Di gran lunga il miglior disco di Pollini di questi ultimi anni.
Maurizio Pollini Plays Chopin's Nocturnes
Ever since he won the Sixth International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1960, the Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini has been seen as one of the finest interpreters of Chopin's music. Since then he has recorded not only the two Concertos for Deutsche Grammophon but also the Etudes, Preludes, Scherzos and, finally, the four Ballades, the Fantasy op. 49 and the C sharp minor Prelude op. 45, all of which appeared in 1999 as what until now was Pollini's last recording of Chopin's music. He has now turned his attention to the Nocturnes.
Herr Pollini, when one looks back over your career, it seems as if there are three great pillars to your repertory: Beethoven, Chopin and the 20th century. You have now brought out a new recording of Chopin after a break of several years.
Maurizio Pollini: I'd say that I feel the same affinity for all the other great composers, such as Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mozart, as I do for the composers you mentioned. But perhaps I've spent a little more time with Beethoven and Chopin.
But you've not recorded any Chopin for quite some time and are now returning to the shorter pieces. Is there any reason why you are doing so just now?
Maurizio Pollini: Well, I recorded the Etudes for Deutsche Grammophon many years ago and followed these up with the Preludes, the Second Sonata and the Ballades. So now it's the turn of the Nocturnes, a further element in completing the picture of Chopin's world and bringing it closer to the public.
Do you mean by that that you plan eventually to record all of Chopin's works?
Maurizio Pollini: If there are to be other recordings, perhaps of the Mazurkas, Waltzes or Impromptus, I would probably opt for a different kind of presentation. Of course, I don't know what the future may bring, but I'd very much like to bring together works that all date from the same period in Chopin's development. It would be a different kind of perspective on his music - a recording would certainly reveal more contrasts because works even from the same period are completely different in character.
You've now recorded Chopin's Nocturnes as a cycle. Why have you recorded them all at one go?
Maurizio Pollini: The Nocturnes are all wonderful works. They are of course lyrical in tone, but there are also vast differences. This in itself makes a cyclical recording sufficiently interesting - simply because enough contrasts can be heard. I find it interesting to hear these contrasts one after the other - perhaps not all at once, but at least some of them.
When one looks at all the Nocturnes in Chopin's output, one sees very quickly that he spent his whole life working on them, just as he did on his Mazurkas and Waltzes. How do you see this development, which can be traced from the earliest cycle - the op. 9 Nocturnes - to the op. 62 set?
Maurizio Pollini: Well, he began with the op. 9 set - but even these works give us an idea of the matchless originality of Chopin's style, which differs so greatly from that of all other composers. It's a new way of looking at things that entered the world of music at that time. Chopin developed a new style of writing and was so good at it that Schumann saw that he was a genius right from the outset. His originality is clear from his very first works, whereas there is no real change as far as their quality is concerned. In spite of this, one can see a different kind of development of a quite magnificent order, even in the late nocturnes such as the op. 54 and op. 62 sets, in which Chopin reveals a greater technical mastery. You can find this in all his late works, including the Polonaise-Fantaisie. Chopin's genius was always there, even in the early works, but it is in the later pieces that you increasingly recognize the great composer that Chopin was. The harmonic complexities are more pronounced, in the Barcarole op. 60, for example, which suddenly reveals the whole miracle of his harmonic language. This is a language that was later taken over by Ravel, who revered Chopin. In this area Chopin influenced the whole history of music - especially through his impact on Ravel and Debussy.
In particular, he revolutionized piano playing, bringing a completely new understanding of the instrument's expressive potential - or would you disagree with that?
Maurizio Pollini: One could certainly say that Chopin invented modern piano playing. Perhaps one could also say that he invented the most beautiful sounds in the history of the piano. Debussy and Ravel took over a lot from him. But it's not only his style of piano playing, with its concomitant sonorities, that influenced later generations, it was also his style of composition. As a musician, Chopin is sometimes seen as being "without a father or son". He represents an exceptional and unique moment in music. And it really is difficult to find a "father" for him, even if he looked up to Bach and Mozart. But that's a different story.
In any discussion of his Nocturnes, however, writers regularly refer to John Field, who undoubtedly influenced Chopin. But isn't this true only of the early Nocturnes, the op. 9 set?
Maurizio Pollini: Yes, I'd say that that was true.
The greatest influence on him, especially on the Nocturnes, was Italian opera, which he greatly admired. Would you agree?
Maurizio Pollini: Certainly. His style was influenced by everything that can be described as bel canto. You can hear the human voice in all of Chopin's works, as the idea of an ideal aria. That's true, but I'd also like to emphasize what it is that makes Chopin's music so profound. He goes far beneath the surface of bel canto,
his music goes deeper. His harmonic writing, which is so unique and wonderful, goes deeper than the simple melodic line of bel canto. Chopin's harmonic language is very powerful and underlines his music's depth of character.
People are fond of saying that each individual nocturne has its own emotional character, a character that Chopin illuminates from every angle. Do you yourself see it in the same way?
Maurizio Pollini: Yes, but there are also nocturnes within the same opus numbers that couldn't be more different. The wonderful op. 27 Nocturnes, for example, are completely different. The first piece in C sharp minor strikes a note of tragedy and is followed by the joyous second piece in D flat major, though the word "joy" is really too weak to express what we find there. Much the same applies to the op. 37 set, where the Nocturnes in G minor and G major are contrasted with each other. People tend to say that minor keys are "sad" and major keys "happy", but these are inadequate words when it comes to describing the music.
Another point about the Nocturnes that needs to be underlined is their dramatic aspect, which is so important. In general, this is an important aspect for the whole of Chopin's musical world - it is found in all his works. And this dramatic character, which tends to be more obvious in the Ballades and Sonatas, for example, also finds expression in the Nocturnes, especially in their middle sections, which are often in splendid contrast to their outer sections. This is true, for example, of the Nocturne op. 27 no. 1, in which the fast middle section, marked "agitato", introduces an element of drama. And it is also true of the Nocturne op. 9 no. 3, where we find another agitato middle section. This sense of drama is even more pronounced in the Nocturne op. 32 no. 2, where the first page starts off lento in character, in contrast to the middle section, which becomes increasingly fast, before returning to the first section, but here the performance marking is no longer "lento", but "appassionato": in other words, Chopin wanted it played with a completely different expression. In short, the accelerando of the middle section leads to the "appassionato" of the third section. It is very much things like this that broaden one's view of the nocturnes, which people tend to see as purely lyrical pieces. But it would be too simple to see them merely as lyrical works, although they are that too, of course. A further example: in the Nocturne in C minor op. 48 no. 1, which is undoubtedly one of the more significant nocturnes, the middle section is a chorale, before the first section returns with the marking "Doppio movimento agitato" - in other words, you have to play it with a totally different character and a totally different mood.
It would be too simplistic, then, to describe the Nocturnes as lyrical pieces. Could one say that in these works Chopin uses absolute music to create dramatic stories, little operas with dramatic plots?
Maurizio Pollini: It's really too difficult to immerse oneself in the world of Chopin's imagination to be able to say something like that. None the less, Chopin said that he hated music that had no inner thought or idea. But nor did he like explaining his music.
Ever since winning the 1960 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, you've been regarded as one of the first pianists to interpret Chopin with very little personal input but rather as someone who plays the music as written. Do you yourself see it in that way?
Maurizio Pollini: I think that personal feeling is very important if you're going to be convincing when playing Chopin's music. And this personal element must be present, of course. That's clear. But we can examine the music from another point of view. Chopin's music has often been played with a lot of rubato, and it has also been played with very little rubato. We know from Liszt that Chopin himself used rubato. But in the 19th century, performances of Chopin's music acquired certain qualities that one could perhaps call mannerisms. This went so far that performers would play an arpeggio instead of the chord that was written in the score. I think that this flies in the face of Chopin's style of writing, as he clearly wrote an arpeggio when he wanted to use one as a stylistic device. So it no longer makes any sense to play each chord as an arpeggio.
Against this background, it's possible that people see my own style of playing as more differentiated. I've always seen it as tending, rather, in the direction of Arthur Rubinstein's interpretative approach: he played Chopin with incredible feeling, warmth and character but with a clearly restrained yet magical use of rubato. This could be regarded as a modern way of playing Chopin but it could also be a throwback to a greater simplicity and to the sort of way in which Chopin himself may have played. For me, the most important thing when playing Chopin's music is to bring out the greatness of the musical expression and the composer's deep thinking, a profundity unique in the whole history of music. I want to show that he's unique but that he also deserves to be numbered among the other great composers.
Do you think that the concept of rubato is properly understood today?
Maurizio Pollini: Well, there are many pianists today who use a mechanical rubato: a slight accelerando, a slight diminuendo. Rubato must emerge spontaneously from the music, it can't be calculated but must be totally free. It's not even something you can teach: each performer must feel it on the basis of his or her own sensitivity. There's no magic formula: to assume otherwise would be ridiculous. Rubato isn't something you can rationalize.
So it has to emerge spontaneously at each moment and in that way bring more and more new aspects to Chopin's music?
Maurizio Pollini: Absolutely. For me, rubato has to be serious, it has to come from a serious feeling for the music itself.
When did you discover your love of Chopin's music?
Maurizio Pollini: When I first started to play the piano, I was perhaps more interested in the music of Bach and Beethoven, music that's more concrete than Chopin's. But even then I was playing a lot of Chopin of course. And once I'd won the Warsaw Chopin Competition, Chopin's music became a part of my life. Since then my love of Chopin's music has continued to grow, so that it's now greater than ever before.
How do you think that your Chopin playing has evolved?
Maurizio Pollini: It has evolved constantly. Somehow I can now play Chopin's music with greater freedom than before. But what really matters is not so much the playing itself as my love of Chopin's music. Furtwängler once said that he envied pianists because they had Chopin. And I've realized that it's a great privilege to be able to play this music. Here I'm thinking not just of the Nocturnes - think of the incredible power of the Second Piano Sonata, with its Funeral March, or the incomprehensible greatness of the Preludes: each of them has its own character, and yet as a cycle they are inconceivably self-contained in terms of their overall message.
Another thing that is special about Chopin's music is that none of his works can be described as weak.
Maurizio Pollini: Yes, that's a very important aspect of his personality. According to Georges Sand, he was an artist who was suddenly struck by the most beautiful melodies and themes. But then there came a difficult phase for him when he had to complete the work and try to impose a definitive form and structure on these ideas. He wanted perfection, he was never satisfied. And so he never wrote a note that wasn't necessary to achieve what he wanted to express. In this respect he was less the typical Romantic, even though his musical message is, of course, romantic through and through. But his working method was different, there are no longueurs in his music, his works are exactly the right length. In order to achieve this, he would repeatedly alter the position of a single chord. You can see this kind of process at work in his Second Ballade, which exists in several versions. The harmonies remain the same, but the manuscript, the German edition and the French edition are all different. He was immensely self-critical when working on his compositions, so anxious was he to achieve perfection.
Do you always look at all the different editions in order to find out which of them probably comes closest to Chopin's intentions?
Maurizio Pollini: I'd very much like to do that, but unfortunately it's very difficult to get all the information as there are many different things that are often smoothed out by editors and that have nothing to do with Chopin's style of composition.
What information did you have on the Nocturnes?
Maurizio Pollini: I compared the Polish Chopin edition with Henle's Urtext edition and on that basis made my own version as I found a number of differences between them.
How were the recordings of the Nocturnes? How did you prepare for them? Did you record all the opus numbers as self-contained groups?
Maurizio Pollini: Before recording them, I began by playing many of the nocturnes as self-contained groups in the concert hall, so I could gain experience of playing them in public before embarking on the recording sessions. I always played all the works at one go as I don't like making too many corrections. For me, it's better to play without any interruptions. On a couple of occasions I have even played all of the Nocturnes at a single go, without any interruption, in order to get a feel for them, but that's no good for a recording, of course.
Maurizio Pollini was talking to Carsten Dürer, the editor in chief of PIANONews