2008/08/30

Maurizio Pollini reigns supreme

The latest instalment of this embarrassment of riches was the first concert of the Pollini Project - programmes curated by Maurizio Pollini that combine different performers and periods of music history, from the early romantics to the modernists. I've seen him play a few times over the years in London, and talked to him at length about his commitment to new music, but until yesterday I had never heard him play Stockhausen.

In the middle of a programme that started with Boulez and Berg, and ended with Liszt, Pollini performed Stockhausen's Piano Pieces VII, VIII, and IX. He played this music with a complete technical command of its ferocious difficulties, as you would expect, but I wasn't prepared for the blazing emotional and lyrical power Pollini found in this music. He made its every gesture, from the obsessive repetitions of a single chord in the ninth piece, to the unpredictable skirls of sound in the seventh, dazzlingly communicative. From where I was sitting, I could see Pollini's face, contorted with as much passion and intensity as it was in the all-Liszt second half.

This was a brilliant programme: after the modernisms of the first half, you heard Liszt with different ears. Pollini played a selection of Liszt's otherworldly late pieces, such as Nuages gris and La lugubre gondola, music in which you can hear tonality melting into something richer and stranger, as well as the Sonata in B Minor.

The sonata was a vast tour de force of architectural power and technical bravura, but in the context of the whole concert, you heard the disturbing, discontinuous elements most in this music: its thematic obsession no less shocking than Stockhausen, its emotional extremity that tests its structure to breaking point. In fact, the most homogenous and least radical music of the concert was also the most recent: Boulez's Dialogue de l'ombre double, a shadow play for clarinet and tape, in which Alain Damiens stepped in and out of the gloom to play a series of solos with electronic interludes. It was sensuous and beguiling, but seemed expressively one-dimensional, especially next to the diamond-like brilliance of the Stockhausen. in Tom Service´s blog , August 22, 2008, 11:20 AM

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