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Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb International, August 2010

Recorded at the Villa Contarini, Piazzola sul Brenta in August 1987 this is another in Unitel’s Pogorleich DVDs. This was a near-fortnight recording project which reflected the company’s enthusiasm for the blazing new talent. Now, getting on for a quarter of a century later, it reappears as part of a series.

Camera angles are simple, clear and free of gimmicks. There are sympathetic panning shots, and the occasional admiring shots of the superb looking hall. Pogorelich is simply dressed in a black open necked shirt and his hair is, as ever in those days, luxuriantly coiffured, the 1980s equivalent of the Czech violinist Jan Kubelík at his Edwardian peak.

Pogorleich’s Chopin Sonata has massive extremes of tempo, and is extraordinary in its demonstration of distension. He presents a narrative of compelling intensity, coiled, vast, and sometimes perverse. His dominant cultivation of slow tempi is evident, as are the frequently beautifully balanced chords. Some of the playing invites a kind of suspension of disbelief, but Pogorelich is Pogorelich, and he takes the sonata to the brink of contraction, to the edge of coherence; but it is remarkable, of that there’s little doubt. His Polonaise has a massive sonority. His pedalling here and throughout is discreet but the performance tends to the exhausting.

The two Beethoven sonatas offer further evidence, as might be anticipated, of his idiosyncratic approach to the repertoire. His Op.27 is a visceral experience that really does stretch the line to past breaking point in pursuit of some mythic dichotomy in the music. The opening movement is more sostenuto ed espressione than vivacità. Op.111 is once again an example of structural and expressive extremes that fairly reflects his Beethovenian playing as a whole. Its distension is powerful, and vast, but sometimes comes at a cost of narrative coherence. There is less room for manoeuvre in this kind of thing in the Scriabin pieces and their various qualities—fluency, elegance and in the case of the D major Poème, fiery commitment—are assuredly realised.



Dave Saemann
Fanfare, July 2010

This video was filmed in 1987, when Pogorelich was in his late-20s. The locale is an ornate Italian villa with excellent acoustics. The sound engineering has held up very well, and the camerawork is unobtrusive. There is no showmanship. Pogorelich simply plays the music, without jumping about or making faces. He has one of the most compulsively watchable pairs of hands I’ve ever seen. I haven’t been this taken with the physical act of a pianist’s playing since I saw Earl Wild play the Gershwin Concerto in 1986. There is a balance of form and function in Pogorelich’s hands that is just enthralling. Pogorelich performs the Chopin and the Scriabin in a black tunic, switching to a plain blue shirt for the Beethoven. Perhaps there’s something revealing in that. The video footage was originally divided into five separate television programs, which simply are played here in succession. I didn’t find this distracting.

I believe Chopin’s Second Piano Sonata was one of the works Pogorelich performed in the 1980 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw. That was where Martha Argerich resigned from the jury after Pogorelich’s elimination, calling him “a genius.” This video contains a great rendition of the sonata. Even the brief introductory chords are dramatic and arresting. In the first movement, Pogorelich has a beautiful response to the second subject, varying it with richness and nobility on each of its appearances, the third time giving it beautiful tone coloring. The scherzo features a dynamic left hand, while its second subject is highly rhapsodic. The opening of the Marche funèbre is grand, even triumphant, whereas its second subject is shaded nocturnally. The return of the Marche is terrifying, leading to the finale’s splendid virtuosic chaos. Throughout the sonata Pogorelich’s conception is bold, dynamic, and vivid.

The remaining Chopin works are equally impressive. The polonaise is freely shaped, colorful, and propulsive. The return of its main theme at the end is immense and thrilling. Pogorelich’s interpretation of the prelude is slow and stately. He brings the same ingratiating talents as a miniaturist to the short works by Scriabin. They highlight his craftsmanship as a subtle colorist and superb technician. The étude is languorous. As for the Two Poems, the first is dreamy, while the second is torrential.

Pogorelich’s Beethoven is more provocative, owing to his preference for slow tempos. In the first movement of Sonata No. 27, I prefer to think of his tempo not as slow but as spacious. The music’s structure always is apparent. In the final movement, Pogorelich offers a truthful representation of Beethoven’s cantabile marking. This issue, however, bedevils the last sonata. In its first movement, Pogorelich’s concept of maestoso is assisted by his ability to clarify voices. This movement’s contrast of virtuosity and repose seems here to prefigure Liszt. Things bog down, unfortunately, in the last movement. There Pogorelich takes the adagio molto marking too literally, interfering in his slowness with the other instruction for cantabile playing. His phrasing becomes choppy. Beethoven did offer the instruction semplice, but that doesn’t mean to proceed so slowly as to be simple-minded. I watched this DVD four times before writing this review, and the last movement of Sonata No. 32 was the only performance I grew weary of.






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4:16:56 AM, 17 April 2014
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