ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The Art of Pollini Works by Schoenberg, Bartók, Beethoven, Chopin, Schumann, Boulez, Debussy, Etc
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano); various conductors & orchestras
CATALOGUE NO: 471 350-2 ADD/DDD Reissue (1972-98)
As well as celebrating his 60th birthday, this collection marks the 30th anniversary of Pollini’s exclusive contract with DG, though one of the recordings on the bonus 13th disc actually pre-dates that era by more than a decade. For all the poor quality of its sound, the 18-year-old Pollini’s prize-winning performance of the Chopin E minor Concerto from the 1960 Warsaw Chopin Competition has a lightness and capriciousness that he has not always managed to recapture in the years since. (Pollini made his famous recording of the same work for EMI shortly after Warsaw.)
There is more Chopin elsewhere in the set: the dazzlingly virtuosic 1972 recording of the Op. 25 Études, and a much less engrossing performance of the ‘Funeral March’ Sonata recorded a dozen or so years later. The contrast between these interpretations, with the more recent of them rather lacking in impetuosity and passion, is one that is reflected in much of this survey of Pollini’s art: the performances he gave in the Seventies generally seem to have greater warmth and personality than those that came afterwards. Mozart’s A major Concerto, K488 (a rare foray into this composer for Pollini) has an expressive beauty that transcends Karl Böhm’s rather stodgy conducting; and the recordings of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier and the C minor Sonata, Op. 111, Schubert’s big A major Sonata and the Schumann Fantasy, Op. 17, can stand comparison with the very best of rival versions. So, too, can the first two Bartók concertos with Abbado and the Chicago SO, while the glittering account of Stravinsky’s Petrushka transcription is simply hors concours.
Rather less successful are the ‘live’ 1998 Brahms D minor Concerto, again with Abbado, which lacks tenderness; and the Debussy Études, in which one misses a real sense of rubato. The remainder of the 20th-century repertoire is, however, spellbindingly handled: the complete Schoenberg piano music and the Second Sonata of Boulez – both tours de force of intellectual concentration and keyboard mastery; and the pieces of variable quality written for Pollini by Luigi Nono and Giacomo Manzoni.
In sum, an immensely impressive achievement. But since DG has also issued the CDs individually, potential purchasers may prefer to pick and choose.