Release Date: 18 February 2022
Label: Sony Classical
Producer: Avo Kouyoumdjian
Recording place: Liszt Concert Hall, Raiding
Total playing time: CD [64:30]
Copyright: © 2022 Sony Classical
18 February 2022
“Art needs time,” Ivo Pogorelich never tires of emphasizing. This is exactly what he demands of himself when it comes to preparing his interpretations. Every note is weighed, and the technique is fine-tuned until he has found the right one for the work in question. In short, nothing is left to chance.
But Ivo Pogorelich also demands time from his listeners. Because the way he makes music is far from easy listening. At worst, it is surprising; at best, disturbing. And it always has a gentle beauty. If he irritates, it is in the nature of things, because, as he has said in an interview, “High art has one characteristic: it is cruel, even to me.” His interpretations are far from complacent, far from mediocre, far from banal. Here power meets poetry with all its force, contrasts collide, form is given content. Away from the hustle and bustle of the fast-moving music industry, Ivo Pogorelich has always pursued his path unswervingly. Early on, this gave him the reputation of being an enfant terrible. His idiosyncratic interpretations, which often skirted so-called faithfulness to the original, irritated audiences. He polarized opinion. He was an eccentric, his critics said. To his fans, he was a visionary. But his interpretations are always thoughtful, because, as the renowned music critic Joachim Kaiser wrote, in extreme cases [Pogorelich] plays along with the shock that many of the most important compositions in music history once caused”. Chopin in particular is often done an injustice by pianists’ pleasingly over-romanticized interpretations.
In this respect, Pogorelich can certainly be seen as an enfant terrible, if by that one means someone who breaks with convention. One might ask why this is important. It is probably like language. Someone who speaks only in platitudes runs the risk of conveying content unthinkingly. In this sense, new approaches must be found. When he interprets Chopin’s Scherzos as “testimonies of the blackest romanticism, as hopelessly torn pieces of horror” (Joachim Kaiser), then this is to be understood in this context.
While others sometimes let Chopin’s works degenerate into display pieces, exploiting virtuosity and moments of tension, Pogorelich merely takes them to their logical conclusion. There is no showmanship, no parading. He penetrates deep into the works, searches for aspects that the composers themselves may not have been aware of, and thus always puts their music in a new light. Tempo, dynamics, agogics – everything is examined for its content, the unnecessary is discarded. What remains are the notes. Proportions are examined, ratios are tested anew. Transparency is his guideline. This is more important to him than any tempo specifications on the part of the composer. Such is also the case with the present album. With his extreme tempos in both directions, he allows the music’s inner essence to emerge. At slow speeds, each note is questioned, deliberately placed and thus allowed to speak for itself. On the other hand, the fast tempos do not serve him to shine virtuosically, but to fully exploit the tension and thus bring it to a brilliant climax.
Outwardly, Frédéric Chopin cut an elegant figure. Always stylishly dressed, he was intelligent and charming. He was witty, and moved only in the most distinguished circles, and was a welcome guest in Parisian salons, where he excelled at the piano. As he grew older, however, he became more secretive, and his contemporaries were less and less able to see behind the façade he had constructed. When asked questions, he liked to refer to his compositions, which contained everything personal.
He was sickly throughout his life – Marie, Countess d’Agoult, remarked laconically, “The only permanent thing about Chopin is his cough” – and became increasingly sensitive. He himself addressed this discrepancy between his outward demeanour and his inner imbalance in his letters: “In the salon I play the quiet one, but when I’m back home I thunder on the piano.” He doesn’t feel in tune with the world, or as he writes, “As far as my feelings are concerned, I am always out of step with those of others.”
Angry outbursts became increasingly common. “Chopin in anger is terrible,” wrote his companion George Sand. In this respect, the image of Chopin has long been not just the conventional one of the dreamy romantic, but rather one of inner conflict.
Chopin has played a central role in Pogorelich’s repertoire from the very beginning. The oft-mentioned start of Pogorelich’s career – the juror Martha Argerich angrily left the hall after Pogorelich, in whom she recognized “genius”, did not make it to the finals – took place at the International Chopin Competition, and his resulting début CD on the Deutsche Grammophon label was a Chopin-only album. Since then, four albums with works by Chopin have been released, and with the present album he presents the fifth, on which he devotes himself to Chopin’s late works. He skilfully works out contradictions, deliberately puts his finger on the contrasts in Chopin’s works and illuminates their darker sides. He does not indulge any of the notes, giving expression to the composer’s brokenness in his final years.
The 2 NOCTURNES OP. 48 were composed and published in 1841. They are dedicated to Mademoiselle Laure Duperré.
NO. 1 IN C MINOR: The first of the two Nocturnes op. 48 occupies a central place in Chopin’s output. It is a very expressive piece, whose drama and depth distinguish it from other salon pieces. The first part of the Nocturne in C minor is grave in character and deeply sad in mood. A melody moves ceaselessly over a bass line, becoming increasingly heightened in pathos in the middle section and finally condensing into dramatic movement. The tension of the opening is further transformed in the course of the piece and placed in a new harmonic context.
In the middle section, chromatic octave sequences suddenly burst into a quiet passage. They emerge victorious from these musical contrasts and lead into the third part. The expression changes again, with restless triplets making the music here seem nervous and tense. Finally, the whole piece calms down and ends as a gentle swansong.
The 2 NOCTURNES OP. 62 were published in 1846 and represent Chopin’s last compositions in this genre, though not the last to be published.
NO. 2 IN E MAJOR: Pleasing in character, this nocturne initially recalls the simplicity of Chopin’s earlier nocturnes. As the piece progresses, however, tensions mount and the character changes significantly. Behind the seemingly simple cantabile quality of the melody lies a complicated rhythm that changes in every measure. Added to this are tonal tensions as the work progresses, the mood of the work becoming increasingly dark in the varied central section. Even the ending brings no real relief but preserves this sombre mood.
The large-scale FANTASY IN F MINOR OP. 49 is characterized by its free form and cannot be classified according to customary genres. The dark, broken quality that was already typical of Chopin in the early 1840s is to be found in this work. Constant changes of tonality and rhythm are the norm here. An initial march theme is presented in the much-extended introductory section; this refers to Karol Kurpiński’s protest song “Litwinka” (“The Lithuanian”), which was popular with Polish troops. Chopin changes the key from F major to F minor and reworks the melody into a fantasy. The song’s dotted rhythms and leaps of a fourth recur throughout the piece. Chopin himself always delighted his audiences with his free improvisations, which he used as a playground for experiments in sound and structure. The Fantasy perhaps comes clos- est to these improvisations.
The PIANO SONATA NO. 3 IN B MINOR OP. 58 is the last sonata that Chopin wrote for the instrument. It demonstrates his efforts to create a new type of sonata. For Chopin’s generation of composers, the sonata form was more a basis for design than a strict rule. It forms the foundation, but is elaborated further; in this respect, the sonatas of this generation together form a “Second Age of the Piano Sonata”. As Carl Dahlhaus notes, this relates to the period of the classical piano sonata in the same way as the works of the “Second Age of the Symphony” relate to the symphonic works of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, separated by the appearance of the symphonic poem.
Here, in the piano sonatas of the Second Age, the treatment becomes mannerist, in the sense of the term formulated by Ernst Robert Curtius. The form is altered and treated playfully. Dahlhaus writes that Chopin “borrowed the sonata form rather than making it his own”.
The way the sonata develops, generally speaking, goes from the complicated (first movement) to the simple (fourth movement). While restlessness and constantly changing musical content are conveyed at the outset, by the time of the devotional third movement at the latest there is a turning point. Finally, the fourth movement brings a joyous and cheerful tone, culminating in the radiant (albeit dramatic) climax in the coda. According to Joachim Kaiser, the final movement represents the “grandest and pianistically richest of all Chopin finales, if not of all 19th-century sonata finales”.
© Katharina Hirschmann / Sony Classical