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Pollini at 70 Returns to Dresden with Brahms

In February 2013 at the invitation of star conductor Christian Thielemann, the legendary Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini returned after almost 25 years to the Dresden Staatskapelle and gave his first performance at the Dresden Semperoper ever. The celebrated, 70-year-old pianist played Brahms’ 1st Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 15.

The interpretation in this unforgettable ARTE broadcast was honored by the German Phono Academy with the “Echo Klassik 2012” in the category “Concert Recording of the Year – piano”.

For those who remember the Abbado/Pollini collaboration from 1999 and the Böhm/Pollini from the 1980s in that same work, the Böhm is considered the best in terms of balancing heroic pianism and confessional insight. The new Thielemann collaboration however, displays superior balance and tempi, richness of detail and greater substance in the piano part, often accomplished by Pollini´s dynamically supportive and active left hand structures.

Brahms originally conceived the first piano concerto as his first major work for orchestra, what would have been his first symphony. After that proved unsatisfactory, he began molding it into a sonata for two pianos. Brahms ultimately decided that he had not sufficiently mastered the nuances of orchestral colour to sustain a symphony, and instead relied on his skills as a pianist and composer for the piano to complete the work as a concerto. It was first performed on January 22, 1859, in Hannover, Germany, when Brahms was just 25 years old. Five days later, in Leipzig, an unenthusiastic audience hissed at the concerto, while critics savaged it, labelling it “perfectly unorthodox, banal and horrid”. In a letter to his close personal friend, the renowned violinist Joseph Joachim, Brahms stated, “I am only experimenting and feeling my way”, adding sadly, “all the same, the hissing was rather too much”. Today it is considered one of the finest and most powerful concerto compositions of the Romantic period.

Brahms’ biographers often note that the first sketches for the dramatic opening movement followed quickly on the heels of the 1854 suicide attempt of the composer’s dear friend and mentor, Robert Schumann, an event which caused great anguish for Brahms.


Maurizio Pollini’s Chopin Etudes Astonish 50 Years Later

Why did we have had to wait over fifty years for this unique recording?

Maurizio Pollini withheld his permission for his first complete recording of the Chopin Etudes Opp. 10 & 25 to be released. While the legendary DG recording from the 1970s has long been acknowledged as one of the finest versions of the Chopin Etudes, the previously unissued version from Abbey Road Studios in 1960
– characterised by a lighter touch and greater musical freedom – is now available on Testament label.

Listen to samples here.

Eighteen-year-old Maurizio Pollini recorded the complete Chopin Etudes for EMI in 1960, right after his first prize victory in the International Warsaw Chopin Competition. EMI’s late producer Peter Andrys described Pollini’s playing of the Etudes as “a spine-tingling experience”. Pollini however did not permit them to be issued and further recording sessions produced personality clashes. Pollini abandoned recording for ten years. Eventually he signed an exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon.

It’s utterly superb: there’s a freshness about Pollini’s playing, a spontaneity that’s absent from his more magisterial later Chopin, and his technique is even more dazzling, too. If there’s a more naturally musical and immaculate recording of the Studies than this 1960 account, then I have yet to hear it. — The Guardian

This is very good 1960 piano sound. The instrument is recorded in close-up, as opposed to the concert hall acoustic Pollini has favoured since. Close scrutiny is no problem; indeed, it’s an asset for playing that is so controlled, expressive and phenomenally accurate. — Limelight Magazine

Technically, Pollini’s two recorded versions are equivalent in mastery and, although different in execution, musically they scale the same height. Is there too much gap between the last two studies? Once the final Etude’s semiquavers are unleashed, though, one can marvel at Pollini’s harmonic awareness and the way he shapes the music. His fingers ensure remarkable delivery. — Classicalsource.com

Chopin Etude in C major Op. 10 no 1:

Sheet music to download and print:

Hear samples from Pollini at the 1960 Chopin Competition in Warsaw


The Pollini Project – charting the development of piano music from Bach to Boulez

Maurizio Pollini, appearing as part of the International Piano Series at London’s South Bank, will perform five recitals between January and May of music from Bach to modernism, described as “personal journey through four centuries of piano repertoire”.

Read the interview in the Guardian

The Pollini Project, program:

28 January
Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, book 1

15 Fabruary
Piano Sonata in E, Op.109
Piano Sonata in A flat, Op.110
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op.111

26 February
Piano Sonata in C minor, D.958
Piano Sonata in A, D.959
Piano Sonata in B flat, D.960

19 April
Chopin: 24 Preludes, Op.28
Debussy: Etudes, Book 2 (Nos.7-12)
Boulez: Piano Sonata No.2

25 May
Stockhausen: Klavierstuck VII & IX
Schumann: Concert sans orchestre (First version of Piano Sonata in F minor, Op.14)
Chopin: Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.45
Barcarolle in F sharp, Op.60
Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52
Berceuse in D flat, Op.57
Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor, Op.31

Maurizio Pollini Hong Kong interview by RTHK – The Works, 14 April 2009:

Maurizio Pollini was born in Milan on 5 January 1942. His father was the famous architect Gino Pollini, one of the leading representatives of Italian rationalism and also an expert violinist. His mother, Renata Melotti, studied piano and singing and was the sister of the well-known sculptor Fausto Melotti, who had a lasting influence on the young Pollini.
In 1948 Maurizio Pollini received his first piano lessons from Carlo Lonati. From 1955 until 1959 he continued his studies with Carlo Vidusso and in 1958 he began to study composition with Bruno Bettinelli. In 1960 he was awarded first prize at the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw and appeared at La Scala playing Chopin’s First Piano Concerto under Celibidache. Since then Pollini has become one of the most admired and respected pianists of our time and has appeared all over the world with leading orchestras and conductors. He is particularly renowned for his innovative concert programmes which champion works by contemporary composers and contrasts these with those of the Classical and Romantic eras. An exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist for four decades, his recordings have won innumerable awards, including Gramophone and Echo Awards, Diapason d’or, Record Academy Prize, Tokyo, and Stella d’oro as well as two Grammys®.


Pollini: Beethoven Piano Concerto No.5 Mvt II

If you need reference recordings of the Beethoven piano concerti, do not neglect the Pollini/Böhm collaboration from the 1980’s. Their ”Emperor” recording on Deutsche Grammophone from 1984 was internationally recognized and Pollini was described as the definition of the modern pianist.

With Pollini before our eyes, we therefore present the second movement from Beethoven´s ”Emperor” concerto no. 5 under Claudio Abbado, recorded in 1967, seven years after Pollini´s sensational 1960 victory at the Warszaw Chopin Competition.

We have become used to the fact that Pollini’s tone is crystalline, his textures transparent and his tempi perfect. His hallmark is balance, and his recording of the complete Chopin Études in 1990 has become a main frame of reference.

For anyone wanting to explore these qualities, his recordings of Debussy (1994 + 1999) and his recent Grammy-winning CD of Chopin´s Nocturnes (2006) on Deutsche Grammophone are highly recommended.


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