Pogorelich Plays Chopin – Nocturnes, Fantasy, Sonata – Sony

by | Feb 10, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

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CHOPIN: Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1; Nocturne in E Major, Op. 62, No. 2; Fantasy in F Minor, Op. 49; Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 – Ivo Pogorelich, piano – Sony 19439912052 (12/2021) 60:38 ****:

After a 20-year hiatus from the recording studio as regards Chopin, Croatian pianist Ivo Pogorelich (b. 1958) returns with an hour of deeply-thought, if eternally controversial, interpretations of some standard, late-Chopin repertory. The 1980 X International Chopin Competition in Warsaw set the tone for the bulk of Pogorelich’s career and his reception by critics and admirers. Both jurists Eugene List and Louis Kentner deplored what they considered excesses in Pogorelich’s style, a disrespect for the printed score and a host of personal mannerisms that detracted from the decorum of the recital. Martha Argerich, on the other hand, reacting to Pogorelich’s elimination after the third round, declared him a “genius” and perfunctorily walked away from the jury. Some may recall Pogorelch’s DGG recording of the Chopin 24 Preludes, played without pedal, a rendition that earned such epithets as “revelatory,” but also “willful,” “eccentric,” “mannered,” and “misguided.” One ponders the slow tempos Pogorelich imposes on Chopin as either epic readings or deliberate distortions that set the individual will of the performer against the intentions of the creator. Well, we have survived “personalities” Glenn Gould (1932-1982) and before him, Vladimir de Pachmann (1848-1933), and each of them, too, garnered simultaneous adoration and vilification.

Pogorelich claims that “art is cruel,” that it often violently confronts our conventions and our complacency. Even if one does not subscribe to Antonin Artaud’s credo of art’s “theater of cruelty,” we must acknowledge that Pogorelich softens the blows with a wonderfully warm sonority and clarity of line. His opening C Minor Nocturne (1841), is admittedly slow at 7:42, a full 90 seconds longer than the Artur Rubinstein RCA  recording (5:57). The beginning Lento seems intimate yet static, moving incrementally mezza voce to a C Major second section, Poco più lento and sotto voce. Then, at measure 50, crescendo rumblings invoke, Doppio movimento, a third section, punishing storm, over which the cantabile melody must sing its resistance at full strength. Even with the ebb of emotions, the sense of turmoil persists, only to die away, leaving us with the recollection of the lyric, veiled in Chopin’s late harmonic aura. 

If one is willing to concede that “depth of expression” compensates for or justifies hyperbolic slowness, then Pogorelich’s Fantasy in F Minor (1841) at 16:11 will appear a miracle of sustained intimacy, given its full three-minutes’ length beyond that of Claudio Arrau (13:11). The grim, martial opening will soon cede to national, Polish impulses in aristocratic contours, in mazurka and polonaise rhythms. Pogorelich becomes mesmerized by his own poetic filigree, so the musical thread loses a sense of dramatic continuity. Again, the luxury of the arpeggios and runs, high and low, mixed together with declamatory bass chords, proves haunting. In the middle section, Lento sostenuto, Pogorelich finds a drawn-out, poetic balance of improvisatory and ballade-like narrative. The last pages become a postlude or epilogue, very slow and deliberate, strumming their way into a vaporous coda.

Portrait of Chopin


Pogorelich’s way with Chopin last, published Nocturne in E (1846) feels better suited to his grand leisure: marked Lento, dolce sostenuto, the melodic line can bear the stretched, serpentine extension it receives, more like Berlioz than Chopin. The secondary theme in ascending, bass runs achieves C-sharp Minor and a series of syncopations that articulate Chopin’s advanced sense of polyphony. Pogorelich makes these rhythmic impulses more lyrical than their accustomed wont. We feel significantly alerted to Chopin’s trills and moving bass line, as the piece eventually assumes a modified rondo format. The music ends, or rather collapses, into the tonic and evaporates.

The last of Chopin’s three piano sonatas, this in B Minor (1844), receives the most improvisatory treatment in the program. The opening, Allegro maestoso, acquires a searching gravitas, alternately martial and nostalgic. Pogorelich milks the secondary theme in D, breaking its dreamy phrases to contrast with the quicksilver runs that provide a coda to the disparate fragments. That the movement ends in the tonic major seems artificial here, another spliced-on, poetic shard.

So far as improvisation occurs, the Scherzo: Molto vivace in E-flat Major from Pogorelich really proves the berries. He invests a liquid urgency into its eighth-note runs, while the chordal, B Major section projects reflective poise. Doubtless, all of Pogorelich’s slow tempos have been awaiting the B Major Largo movement, which now drags out a long, chain-link series of nocturnal thoughts in E Major. If the playing were not so intrinsically lyric, the progress would resemble a sweet dirge with tolling bells. The last movement, Finale: Presto non tanto, assuming the listener’s patience has endured, moves with a hard-won (after a lingering, high dominant 7th chord) gallop, a bit marcato for my taste, but at least moving with decisiveness, especially in the brilliant runs. The secondary theme in the relative B Major, hurls a sense of national pride at us, its left hand’s singing in the manner of a liberated etude. Pogorelich’s sonority gains the heroic high ground at last, thundering to a firm, B Major coda. If you like musical licorice or Turkish taffy, this may be a new heaven.

–Gary Lemco


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