Pollini thinks in phrases, not in notes...If music is made up of sentences, these were translating the content into a whole new language. And yet it never felt as if the pianist were being whimsical, imposing a point of view simply for the sake of being different.Contrast this to Allan Kozinn's NYT review of the same show at Carnegie Hall the other week:
If you like this aspect of Mr. Pollini’s style — his forcefulness and muscularity, and his ability to create the sense that the piano is inadequate to the music’s demands and his own — his tendency to apply the same expressive effects to every work on the program was not a deal breaker...the sameness of his interpretive approach from work to work struck me as a flaw that even the great — and very real — Pollini aura could not overcome.Kozinn has every right to find Pollini not his cup of tea, of course, but I fear he is trading in the fairly tired Pollini "debate". Pollini is a challenging artist, but not because he offers extreme perfection at the expense of warmth or sentimentality. Rather, it is because he challenges his audience to think "bigger" about the works he plays, for lack of a better word.
Its a hard thing to describe, as AM duly acknowledges, but when he is really successful, the feeling is akin to the revelations one is used to feeling more often in literature or architecture: when you really understand a work as the sum of its parts, and the genius in their relations. Achieving this--making that architecture audible to an audience--requires an absurd level of consistency and control. The second things fall out of proportion, the audience goes back to understanding a piece as simply melody plus harmony, color plus tempo, etc. Anyone not at the pinnacle of virtuoso technique wouldn't be able to even consider such ambitions for the repertoire he plays. Again, AM hits it when she says that his performance was hardly note perfect, but conveyed the "concept" of perfection.
Now, sometimes his interpretations require a lot of work on the part of the audience, because to express the design that he wants to, he needs to contradict the CD playing in our head. Sometimes its successful, sometimes its not. It's a tricky business. But we shouldn't assume for a moment that what we're hearing is anything as mundane as an "effect" that didn't come off right or didn't get enough attention. Pollini is a man with a project, and his interest lies in a very different space than isolated effects.
I could rundown the different pieces in detail, but I really ought to go back to work, so I'll just say: the Appasionata was probably the pinnacle in all around mind blowingness; the Tempest bores me these days but it was good; the C Major Fantasy reading was probably the most 'challenging' by the meaning above, but perhaps the one that will stay with me longest; Pollini's Chopin, which closed the concert and accounted for all the encores is a really unique and special thing, and I'm not going to ruin it by going on about it anymore.
Also notable from the department of ironic bad concert etiquette: some classical music dork's cell phone went off during the Beethoven, and I'm pretty sure the ring tone was from some other Beethoven piano piece. Is that more or less embarrasing than "Who Let the Dogs Out"? Not sure...
Update: Great rundown from Charles Downey at Ionarts here.