So, I saw Pollini live for the first time the other weekend at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, playing a program of Chopin and Liszt. It was one of those handful of moments in life when one suddenly finds oneself in possession of shocking new proof about what a human is capable of. Not impressive/mind blowing, but literally/mind blowing. He has an ability to see the structure of a piece with such clarity and foresight that one gets the giddy uncanny feeling that every note is truly in its proper place as the composer intended it.
Now, I suppose he has a rap for being 'distant', and its true that the Liszt which turns on rapture rather than structure (exhibit A being the B minor sonata) was less intoxicating. But in those pieces which fully play to his strengths of allowing you to see a work in its totality--the motherfucking oh my god out of fucking control Chopin Polonaise for instance--he is equal to none. The wonder of the thing literally brought tears to my eyes.
And PS, it should be noted that his technique is IMPECCABLE. His fingers look like the fingers you would see in a piano video for 10 year olds, yet moving an order of magnitude faster. It is virtually incomprehensible.
His *five* encores were an unmissable concert in and of themselves. He played the Transcendental Etude at least half as fast as twice as articulate I've ever heard it. The last encore, Debussy's "Cathedrale engloutie" confirmed that Pollini is as magically adept with the fast as the simple. It is difficult for one to hear his Debussy in its entirety. It requires a different sort of attention to the perfection in the value and placement of each note which one tends to take for granted. But when one hears it, it is the voice of Debussy himself.