Maurizio Pollini interprets late works for piano by Chopin

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin: Late Works
WORKS: Barcarolle in F sharp; Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat, Op. 61; 3 Waltzes, Op. 64; Mazurkas, Opp. 59, 63 & Op. Posth. 68/4; 2 Nocturnes, Op. 62
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: DG 479 6127

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Whether or not the incomplete Mazurka in F minor, Op. 68 No. 4 actually was Chopin’s last work, its mood of gentle yet grave melancholy and its understated ending make for a moving conclusion to Maurizio Pollini’s latest album. The Italian pianist has turned to that elusive idea of ‘late style’ with a programme of music from the last four years of the composer’s life; Chopin looks out at us with grim weariness from the 1849 (the year he died) daguerrotype printed in the booklet. If this slight piece is a soft echo of a dance, the two groups of Mazurkas – Op. 59 and Op. 63 – vividly demonstrate the emotional range with which Chopin imbued this traditional Polish form, from the contented lilt of the A flat major, Op. 59 No. 2 to the poetic intensity of the C sharp minor, Op. 63 No. 3.

All the Pollini hallmarks are here too: chiselled structure, aristocratic demeanour and lucid lines. It’s a serious approach, which isn’t to the detriment of these miniatures. He also judges the rubato and tempos beautifully, and draws a cool, liquid tone from his Steinway that sparkles in the Minute Waltz and sings in the two Nocturnes, Op. 62. If there’s a quibble, it’s with the two longer works: the Barcarolle and Polonaise-Fantaisie. Here the piano sound is a little muddy in the middle registers, and the music seems to call for more than the detachment with which it’s approached.

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Rebecca Franks