Chopin Études, Op.10, Op.25
Here, remarkably, are Maurizio Pollini’s first thoughts on the Chopin Etudes. Recorded by EMI in 1960, the genesis of this disc is outlined by Tony Locantro in his accompanying essay, where he tells of an increasingly fraught situation. Even when the easy majority of great artists (Lipatti, Ashkenazy, Brendel, Larrocha and Gérard Souzay come to mind) are often dismissive of their earliest recorded efforts, it is surely astonishing that Pollini could reject his early superfine brilliance, his aristocratic musicianship, his patrician ideal in the Chopin Etudes. Yet his rejection was adamant. Later his switching of producer, piano and location became too much for the EMI team and, as their initial anxiety to accommodate their highly strung 18-year-old virtuoso waned, he left them for DG, his preferred company to this day.
Yet here, rescued by Testament, is a poetic intensity in the slower Etudes (most notably in the desolating Op 10 No 6) that later eluded him in his more objective DG recording. What superb articulacy in, say, Op 10 Nos 2, 4 and 5, and what awe-inspiring assurance and uncanny technical perfection in the treacherous double notes of No 7 (Chopin’s Toccata if you like). His pedalling is light, his sonority ‘white’ and crystalline, and if there is little of Cortot’s careless rapture or Cherkassky’s elfin propensity for mischief-making there is, overall, a near flawless balance of sense and sensibility. All lovers of great piano-playing will need to add this to their collection together with later Pollini, early Ashkenazy, Cortot and, most recently, Perahia. The recording captures much of Pollini’s pristine sound and there are sensible gaps between each Etude, allowing the listener to recover his breath before the start of the next marvel.