Maurizio Pollini, “the pre-eminent Chopinist of his generation” (Fanfare), continues revelatory chronological re-exploration of the Polish master’s music
Frédéric Chopin made his name in the high-society salons of his native Poland and, above all, in the vibrant Paris of Eugène Delacroix, Victor Hugo and George Sand. His pieces for solo piano, often technically challenging, always enchanting, are in constant global demand today, especially when brought to life by a performer of Maurizio Pollini’s stature. The 77-year-old Italian musician has been in love with Chopin’s art since childhood, a passion clear in his critically acclaimed recordings of the composer’s works for Deutsche Grammophon. Maurizio Pollini – Chopin, set for international release on 25 January 2019, embraces a lifetime’s dedication to the composer and complements Pollini’s much praised 2017 album, Chopin – Late Works, opp.59–64.
Maurizio Pollini – Chopin comprises four works written between 1843 and 1844, including the haunting Berceuse in D flat major Op.57 and the four-movement Piano Sonata in B minor Op.58, a proud Polish musician’s spectacular creative response to the dominant legacy of German keyboard sonatas. The programme opens with Chopin’s two Nocturnes Op.55 and three Mazurkas Op.56, before moving to the composer’s Opp.57 and 58 scores, with each piece presented in the order of its publication. Pollini here trains the spotlight on the infinite breadth of Chopin’s melodic invention. As the pianist points out, Chopin always favoured variety over uniformity when constructing his own concert programmes.
Pollini’s choice of compositions from a narrow window in time allowed him to revisit works already in his Deutsche Grammophon catalogue and to add the Op.56 Mazurkas to his Yellow Label discography. Maurizio Pollini – Chopin preserves the fruits of a lifelong process of study and experience gained since the pianist began exploring Chopin’s art in the early 1950s. As he once told the New York Times, “The music of Chopin has been with me my entire life, since … I was a boy. My love for [it] has become greater and greater for years.”
For Maurizio Pollini, Chopin’s power lies in his capacity to express profound emotions in music of the utmost clarity and extraordinary beauty. “Chopin is an innately seductive composer,” he observes. “But there is an incredible depth to Chopin, and this depth should come, finally, in performance of him. What was extraordinary about him is that he was able to achieve universality. It is amazing that music so completely personal is able to conquer everybody.” Interviewed by BBC Radio 3 soon after his 75th birthday, the pianist suggested that Chopin wrote for the piano in a more beautiful way than any other composer and that there was a “touch of magic” about his music. “That magic is difficult to explain,” he noted, “but the balance between the different registers of the piano [allows] the music to sing wonderfully … He’s loved in all the world; everybody likes him.”
As so often in the past, Pollini recorded his latest Deutsche Grammophon album at Munich’s Herkulessaal. Christopher Alder, the pianist’s producer for many decades, recalls how the sessions followed Pollini’s customary pattern. “He normally plays the programme once through, then changes his shirt,” he explains. “He’ll repeat that twice more and that’s it for the day. On the final day, he’ll ask me if there’s anything I think he should concentrate on, such as bringing out a particular theme or certain harmonies. He’ll then play those passages up to ten times, have a cup of coffee, and play his programme again three times. He always lets me know what he’s looking for as the sessions proceed – which helps me with the editing process – and is meticulous about every detail and its relationship to the big picture.”
Maurizio Pollini’s vision of Chopin was already highly developed by the time he took First Prize at Warsaw’s International Chopin Piano Competition in 1960. The 18-year-old Italian was lionised by Arthur Rubinstein, who turned to his fellow jurors and said, “This young man can already play technically better than any of us.” Although, as Pollini himself is quick to point out, his subsequent career has spanned music by everyone from Beethoven and Schumann to Boulez and Stockhausen, Chopin has remained a cornerstone of his repertoire and, as he told BBC Radio 3, he sees it as a great compliment to be considered a “Chopin player”.