WORKS: Piano Concerto No. 2
PERFORMER: Maurizio Pollini (piano)Berlin PO/Claudio Abbado
CATALOGUE NO: 453 505-2
At its best, Maurizio Pollini’s distinctive playing blends intellectual rigour and uncompromising technical address. Sometimes this approach limits or ignores important expressive realms, but when applied to Brahms’s B flat Concerto it offers a challenging alternative to the traditional dialogue between heartfelt sentiment and burly bravura. Pollini’s clear textures and meticulous parsing of phrases guide the listener unerringly through Brahms’s dense network of motivic manipulation, revealing numerous welcome – and often unanticipated – expressive and formal insights.
What I especially value in Pollini’s conception of the piece emerges more clearly in his 1976 recording with Abbado and the Vienna Philharmonic than in this new ‘live’ account. Here there are a few moments of greater exuberance and spontaneity, but Abbado’s sometimes lovely contribution does not as fully grasp the linear implications of Pollini’s view this time around, and the pianist’s playing is less polished – he finds the going heavier in the finale, and interaction with the orchestra seems less well integrated than before. Part of the problem may be that the fuller, more immediate sound of the newer version makes Pollini’s dynamic range and articulation seem less subtle than in the comparatively distant perspective of the older recording. In short, a brilliant conception incompletely realised by all involved. David Breckbill