Schubert; Schumann Piano works
The cover of this issue in DG’s Originals series shows Caspar David Friedrich’s familiar The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. Pollini, on the other hand, is a wanderer in a transparent ether or crystalline light and both of these legendary performances, recorded in 1973, are of a transcendental vision and integrity. In the Schubert his magisterial, resolutely un-virtuoso approach allows everything its time and place. There is never a hint of the remorseless or ‘driven’ quality of some of his more recent performances. Listen to his flawlessly graded triple piano approach to the central Adagio, to his rock-steady octaves at 5'23'' (where Schubert’s merciless demand is so often the cause of confusion) or to the way the decorations in the Adagio are spun off with such rare finesse, and you may well wonder when you have heard playing of such an unadorned, unalloyed glory.
Pollini’s Schumann is no less memorable. Doubting Thomases on the alert for alternating touches of imperiousness and sobriety will be disappointed, for, again, Pollini’s poise is unfaltering. The opening Moderato is sempre energico, indeed, its central Etwas langsamer is so sensitively and precisely gauged that all possible criticism is silenced. The coda of the central march (that locus classicus of the wrong note) is immaculate and in what someone once called the finale’s “shifting sunset vapour” Pollini takes us gently but firmly to the shores of Elysium.
The recordings have been beautifully remastered and the notes include a warm appreciation by JOC celebrating Pollini’s aristocratic quality (“never is passion allowed to override poise”). The trials and tribulations of sessions beset with a faulty instrument, lack of heating, etc. are vividly evoked by the producer who also speaks most movingly of Pollini’s ferocious self-criticism and quest for virtual perfection. In other words, here is a record that should grace every musician’s shelf.'