CHOPIN Piano Sonata No. 2, “Funeral March.” Polonaise in f?, op. 44. Read more class="ARIAL12b">Prelude in B?, op. 28/21. BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 27; No. 32. SCRIABIN Etude, op. 8/2. 2 Poems, op. 32 • Ivo Pogorelich (pn) • C MAJOR 701308 (DVD: 101:00)
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.
If you are collecting these works on CD, I can make some recommendations. In the Chopin sonata, I like Cécile Ousset (whose muscularity recalls Pogorelich), Leif Ove Andsnes, and Idil Biret. Richard Goode and Bernard Roberts are interesting in both of the Beethoven sonatas. For No. 32, there also are fine recordings by Bruce Hungerford, Jerome Rose, and, on a Graf fortepiano, Peter Serkin. Scriabin’s Two Poems appears in a lyrical presentation by the Russian-American pianist Dmitry Paperno, on a lovely collection of shorter works titled Through the Years. As for Pogorelich’s DVD, it is fascinating and compulsively watchable almost all the way through. If you can overlook some rather zany Beethoven, it might be for you.