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.
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.
Although his name might not rate very highly on the recognition meter even of classical music buffs, Franz Tunder was a consequential entity in the early history of the German Baroque. Tunder served as organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck from 1641 to his death in 1667, and during that time instituted the Abendmusiken, the first series of public concerts to take place in Germany. Seventeen vocal "concertos" exist from Tunder's pen and they were created for these special events; little more than half of them appear on this generous and well-performed CPO disc, Franz Tunder: Concerti. Conductor Hermann Max leads Das Kleine Konzert and the singing group Rheinische Kantorei in 10 concerti, which uses a variety of singers in frontline combinations. Tunder must have had some good basses in his chorus, as they have most of the hardest music in the Concerti, and five of these ten works are sung by bass or basses alone. Both men used here, Ekkehard Abele and Yoshitaka Ogasawara, do an excellent job. The string parts are crisp and do not dawdle, and Max never allows the music to get too grandiose, wisely keeping it within the boundaries of the chamber idiom to which it belongs. The music is never ornately busy and has a relaxed, soothing effect.