For while it would be idle to pretend that this 70-year-old virtuoso, struck down at the height of his career with psoriatic arthritis, still commands the velocity and reflex of his earlier years, his later Chopin and Liszt are a tribute to a devotion and commitment gloriously enriched by experience. The First Impromptu is piquantly voiced and phrased while the C sharp minor Etude, Op. 25 No. 7, could hardly be more hauntingly confided, more ‘blue’ or inturned. How you miss the repeat in the C sharp minor Mazurka, Op. 50 No. 3 (not Op. 15, as the jewel-case claims), given such cloudy introspection and if there are moments when you recall how Rubinstein – forever Chopin’s most aristocratic spokesman – can convey a world of feeling in a scarcely perceptible gesture, Janis’s brooding intensity represents a wholly personal, only occasionally overbearing, alternative; an entirely different point of view. Time and again he tells us that there are higher goods than surface polish or slickness and in the valedictory F minor Mazurka, Op. 68 No. 4 he conveys a dark night of the soul indeed, an emotion almost too desolating for public utterance… Janis is no less remarkable in Liszt, whether in the brief but intriguing Sans mesure (a first performance and recording), in a Sonetto 104 del Petrarca as tear-laden as any on record and in a final Liebestod of an exhausting ardour and focus.
No prizes for predicting that this Liszt B minor Sonata is technically flawless and beautifully structured. What may come as more of a shock (though not to those who have followed Pollini's career closely) is its sheer passion. To say that he plays as if his life depended on it is an understatement, and those who regularly accuse him of coolness should sit down in a quiet room with this recording, a decent hi-fi system and a large plateful of their own words. The opening creates a sense of coiled expectancy, without recourse to a mannered delivery such as Brendel's on Philips, and Pollini's superior fingerwork is soon evident. His virtuosity gains an extra dimension from his ability at the same time to convey resistance to it—the double octaves are demonstrably a fraction slower than usual and yet somehow feel faster, or at least more urgent. There is tensed steel in the very fabric of the playing. By the two-minute mark so much passion has been unleashed one is bound to wonder if it has not all happened too soon. But that is to underestimate Pollini's unerring grasp of the dramatic structure and its psychological progression from paragraph to paragraph; it is also to underestimate his capacity to find extra technical resources when it would seem beyond the power of flesh and blood to do so.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of Otto Klemperer s death, EMI Classics pays tribute to the incomparable conductor with the release of an extensive edition of 11 luxurious yet affordably-priced boxsets. The second edition of three is available this January. Klemperer Edition: Concertos is a 6-CD set presents a comprehensive survey of Klemperer s renowned conducting of concertos. Although Klemperer had primarily been contracted to provide orchestral music for the EMI Classics catalog there were soloists who benefitted from his presence in recording concertos.
For fans of Sviatoslav Richter, it does not much matter if the sound is not all that great and it does not much matter if the repertoire is the same repertoire as always. It does not even matter much if the performances are not the greatest Richter ever recorded. For fans of Sviatoslav Richter, the only thing that matters is that there are new Richter recordings because that all by itself means that they will be some of the greatest performances of the greatest repertoire ever recorded. And this five-disc set of Sonatas by Beethoven, Schubert, and Liszt does not disappoint. With recordings dates from 1961 through 1975 and recording venues all in the USSR and its empire, the sound is hard and harsh. But with repertoire ranging from the last three Beethoven Sonatas through Schubert's last Sonata to Liszt's only Sonata, the music has the supreme masterpieces of the Romantic repertoire. And while there are Richter performances here and there that may arguably exceed these, Richter's performances here are as virtuosic, as expressive, as profound, and as transcendent as any he ever recorded. Which makes them some of the greatest performances of the greatest repertoire ever recorded.