Standing ovation at the end of Maurizio Pollini’s 75th birthday concert at the Royal Festival Hall in London
And how could it be otherwise than a first half dedicated to Chopin whose birthday was the following day the 22nd February.
It was after all Chopin that sprang Pollini onto the world stage at only 18 when he won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw.
The first piece the Nocturne op 27 n.1 in C sharp minor with hardly a murmur from Pollini’s left hand on which floated the most ethereal melody.
Similar sounds that he was to find in the Cathedrale Engloutie offered as his first encore Was not Debussy editor of an edition of Chopin’s works?
I am sure that with this great thinking musician it was not just a coincidence.
The two nocturnes op.27 floating the most beautiful Chopin melodies into the refined air created by this remarkable musician who incredibly was celebrating with us his 75th birthday.
The third and fourth Ballades again in a very subdued manner hardly rising above mezzo forte such was his self identification with Chopin as we have come to know him via the letters of his few appearances in public.
Such magisterial musicianship a lesson in taste and style.
His wonderful sense of balance and beauty of sound allowed him to shape the works with the same power as the barnstorming musicians who seem to frequent these vast halls.
For Chopin was used to playing in the salons of the day on much less powerful instruments and certainly not to an audience of thousands .
It was the mastery and years of experience that allowed Pollini to draw us into the Salon world of Chopin and the full house sat in complete silence hypnotised by this now obviously very frail musician .
Who could ever forget the first appearances of Pollini in London with the Hammerklavier,Petroushka and one of the most remarkable Schumann Fantasies that London has ever heard .
We were astonished by the perfection and power of this young Italian pianist .But most of all astounded by his musicianship similar to that of the much admired Solomon, a career sadly cut short by a stroke .
This perfection has now become the norm but Pollini has moved on and in his quest for even more identification with the composers he has lived with for a lifetime,he like Kempff too late in his life, sacrifices note picking accuracy for a sense of true legato something with much more meaning for him and for us and that he very generously shares it with .
This is why his public worldwide flock to savour this feast of music in this remarkable artists twilight hour.
The beautiful Berceuse ideally suited to this atmosphere created from the very first notes of the recital.
It was shaped with such supremely delicate rubato that one was not even aware of the elasticity of his phrasing and the total exclusion of anything percussive in his quest to disguise the true nature of the piano.
This was followed by the mighty first scherzo where a little more power and dynamism would have been the perfect foil for all that had been created before .
But Pollini chose to keep the same atmosphere and there was a general sheen and aura to the very mellow sounding instrument.
The instrument as always provided for Pollini and also in the past for Michelangeli by their faithful technician,that great wizard in his own right , Angelo Fabbrini.
I would not be surprised if the mellow rich sound was not something that they had worked on together for this very particular 75th anniversary programme.
Such is the probing,searching musicianship of this artist that has given us a lifetime of dedication to music .
The second half dedicated to the Twelve Preludes Book 2 by Debussy.
The superb exquisite sounds but also the total dedication to Debussy’s most precise indications in the score I have only heard once before in this hall from Sviatoslav Richter.
Michelangeli too was remarkable but a completely different sound world from these half lights and subtle piano and pianissimi .
Rarely rising above mezzo forte again we were drawn into the magic world of a composer who so much admired Chopin.
Already the murmurings of Brouillards and Feuilles mortes drew us into a quite unique sound world .
The spell only slightly disturbed by the Puerta del vino and General Lavine eccentric only to be re found in the sublime sounds that he found in La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune and Ondine. A real sense of humour too in the preposterous Hommage a S.Pickwick Esq ,P.P.M.P.C leading into a Canope of real magic.
Les tierces alternees could have cleared the air with a more virtuosistic contrast .
The Feux d’artifice remarkable for the wonderful final apparition of la Marseilles with such sublime clarity it seem to float into this vast hall with a simplicity and cleanliness that took the audiences breath away.
Always generous with his adoring public.
Three encores which seemed to give him even more energy as after La Cathedrale he sat down and gave us such exemplary performances of the third Scherzo and finally restored to its rightful place at the pinnacle of the piano repertoire the much maligned First Ballade.
Here at last it was allowed to sing out with such simplicity and power without any of the rhetoric that tradition has passed on to musicians without the power of Pollini to interpret what the composer actually wrote himself.
A real lesson from a master who we can only wish many many more happy returns…………..