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Maurizio Pollini
biography, albums, concert review

Article added in March 2000
 
Biography: Maurizio Pollini was born in 1942 in Milan. He studied the piano with Carlo Lonati and composition and conducting at the Milan Conservatory. By 1957, when he performed the Chopin Etudes in Milan, the press had already begun to take notice of him. His prize-winning performance at the 1960 Warsaw Chopin Competition was followed by a further period of study, this time with Arturo Benedetti-Michelangeli. Since the mid-1960s, Maurizio Pollini has given recitals and appeared with major orchestras in Europe, the USA and the Far East. He made his American debut in 1968, undertook his first tour of Japan in 1974, and today still performs regularly at the world's great international music festivals. He has also developed a great interest in contemporary works and was one of the first pianists to champion their cause. Among these contemporary composers is Pierre Boulez. In addition, new compositions - commissioned from Manzoni, Donatoni, Guarnieri and Berio by Maurizio Pollini and the Salzburg Festival - receive their premiere performance with Pollini.

CDs by Maurizio Pollini from Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.it and Amazon.co.uk.

Maurizio Pollini: concert at the Tonhalle Zurich, February 16, 2000
Debussy: Douze Etudes pour piano. Boulez: Sonate Nr. 2.
 
I already tried so see Maurizio Pollini live three times in my life. All three times the concert was cancelled due to the artist's health problems. The same happened in January. On February 16, my chance came to see him. But then, the locomotive of the train bringing me to Zurich broke down. A delay became unavoidable. I had to change to another train. Arriving in Zurich, it had begun to snow. After a record sprint to the Tonhalle, Pollini had already started playing. He is a very sensitive pianist so I had to wait behind closed doors and listen from there to his rendition of the First Book of Debussy's Twelve Etudes for Piano. He just had started with part IV In sixths. After the First Book, the public applauded him generously and gave me the chance to slip unnoticed into the concert hall.
 
Debussy's Twelve Etudes for Piano (Debussy sheet music) from 1915 mark a new beginning in the work of the French composer. They were the product of a creative phase following months of crisis and silence beginning with the outbreak of the First World War. His study of Chopin's Etudes for Piano made him adopt a stylistic change. The abstraction and its related "secrets" as well as tone color and richness now stood at the center of his compositions. "The Etudes have all the characteristics of Debussy's late, most mature idiom. Harmonies indifferent to the logic of tonality, a new suppleness of rhythm and melody, inexhaustible aural inventiveness and an unprecedented formal freedom to combine with absolute coherence in a totally original approach to time in music" (Paolo Petazzi). The Twelve Etudes for Piano are neither simple "finger exercises", nor a continuation of Debussy's impressionistic pictures. Pollini - who is above technical problems - was able to render the subtle dynamic shades, the contrasts as well as the tone colors.
 
Debussy's Etudes have only really been rediscovered and appreciated at their true value by Pierre Boulez. Therefore, the combination of Debussy and Boulez in Pollini's program makes sense. Sonata No. 2 by the French contemporary composer and director was written in 1948. Boulez was only 23 when he composed it. In his own words, his Sonata No. 2 was "the total and conscious break with the totality of the classical twelve-tone technique". It was "the decisive step into the integral serial world". He handled pitch and tone-length in a serial way, whereas tone color and volume still enjoyed a certain liberty. The Sonata No. 2 demands a lot from the listener, and of course also from the pianist. For a long time it was considered unplayable. Pollini's play proved that this is no longer true. In fact, the pianist had already proved it in 1976 with his recording that came out in 1978 and won him the Grand Prix International du Disque in 1979 (Get the CD from Amazon.com).
 
The problem with Boulez' Sonata No. 2 is that the listener at first has no associations, no imaginary images to relate to the music. But with the help of Pollini's play in Zurich, the attentive concert spectator could well imagine himself a world related to the Sonata. Contrasts, changes in rhythm, silences, controlled-playing, Boulez' composition has it all. Maybe it is not as serial as he thought himself. An interesting detail: compared to his 1976-recording, Pollini played the Lent well over a minute shorter and the Vif over 45 seconds shorter in Zurich. The non-respect of absolute metric indications imagined by the composer has no effect on the quality of the Sonata that apparently contains a much wider freedom of interpretation than imagined by Boulez.
 
As often in concerts and also with Pollini the encores were a if not the highlight of the evening. The pianist returned again to Debussy, first to the composer's Des pas sur la neige (Préludes), then to his Cathédrale engloutie. Pollini rendered the repeated motive of Des pas sur la neige in all its fragility and he filled the Cathédrale engloutie with rising and falling warmth. The sensational encores were a demonstration of how to create a great effect by the economic use of one's means.

CDs by Maurizio Pollini from Amazon.com, Amazon.de, Amazon.it and Amazon.co.uk.


Maurizio Pollini. Photo © Philippe Gontier / Deutsche Grammophon, DG.


Maurizio Pollini. Photo © Philippe Gontier / Deutsche Grammophon, DG.









Maurizio Pollini. Photo © Cosimo Filippini / Deutsche Grammophon, DG.


Maurizio Pollini. Photo © Philippe Gontier / Deutsche Grammophon, DG.