The Prokofiev Seventh Sonata remains a benchmark recording not only for the athleticism of its outer movements but for the epic remorselessness of the central Andante. The Webern Variations are a magical fusion of intellectual passion and poetry, and the Boulez Sonata vividly reminds us why the European avant-garde was such a powerful form in the 1950s.
As astounding a collection of virtuoso piano-playing as when the LP version appeared. Pollini is a complete master of these immensely challenging pieces.
In a few minutes you hear what makes Boulez's music so enticing: the incredibly subtle harmonic sense, whose roots in Debussy and Messiaen become increasingly overt as the years go by; the combination of luxuriant decoration and sudden pouncing violence; and a constantly changing pulse. Like Debussy's, Boulez's music is always 'pushing forward' or 'holding back'. The conductor who best realises this cat-like flexibility is of course Boulez himself. And given his massive authority as a conductor in new music generally, the question "Which version should I buy?" seems to be answered as soon as it's asked . . . Boulez describes the piano as 'an instrument peculiarly prone to frenzy', and the second sonata of 1958 combines an expressive fury with a Beethovenian grandeur and reach. There are now six versions of this piece in the catalogue, but the most craggily impressive is still the one from Maurizio Pollini on DG. Beside the violence, you find in early Boulez a hot sensuality, different to the glittering, rather cool beauty of the later works.
I cannot think when I last heard such an exciting new piano record . . . [the excitement is produced] by a combination of three things: virtuosity of the highest degree; a sense of musical purpose and commitment that is in complete control of the virtuosity; and, finally, first-rate recording . . . one can hear and admire Pollini's astonishing range of touch and colour . . . there is a constant tension between the substance of the music and the physical form in which it is clothed. The result is instantly thrilling . . . there's something about those hard edges and clean lines, that tightly wound rhythmic vitality, which still strikes me, all these years later, as being particularly apt for Stravinsky.
. . . un des cent plus grands disques de piano de tous les temps . . . Les superlatifs manquent pour décrire la précision avec laquelle Pollini articule les registres des trois mouvements de "Pétrouchka" . . . Cette implacable 7e de Prokofiev a des rivales, mais certes pas des Variations op. 27 de Webern ni une Sonate no 2 de Boulez si intellectuellement et musicalement dominées, évidentes comme du Mozart.