Release Date: 1978 (LP), 2005 (CD) 

Label: Jugoton / Croatia Records

Producers: Vida Ramušćak (LP) / Miroslav Škoro (CD)

Recording place: Jadran film Studio, Zagreb

Total playing time: LP / CD [43:18]

Copyright: © 2005 Croatia Records


1978 / 2005

A young talent that would seem to need no introduction, the Croatian pianist Ivo Pogorelich has had a prominent international career since around 1980. In that year at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, the famed piano virtuoso Martha Argerich resigned from the jury with much eclat when Pogorelich was not admitted into the finale of the competition. Since then, international tours to all major world Musical capitals, and a Deutsche Grammophon recording contract, have made Pogorelich extremely well-known. He is a particular favorite in America where since the early 1980’s the popular press spoke of “the Croatian sensation”. However, there is still a minority of grumblers who do not want to admit the pianist to their own competitive finales of great pianists. No one denies that No is a willful interpreter, and his personal views of composers he has recorded like Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Haydn, Liszt, Prokofiev, Ravel, Scarlatti, Schumann, Scriabin, and Tchaikowsky, may please or displease. It must be said in his favor that he always has the fingers to support whatever interpretative decision he makes. Pogorelich is neither a clown, like some young pianists marketed by record companies, nor is he a machine, like other players who seem never to have lived outside their practice rooms.

Ivo was born in Belgrade in 1958, and his musical talents were evident early. At age 11 he left his family to study at the Central Moscow school, and later at the Tchaikowsky Conservatory where he worked with Timakhin, Gornostaevna, and Malinin, among famous Russian pedagogues. In 1977 he met Alice Kezeradze, whom he later married, who imparted to him the Liszt-Siloti piano tradition. It was at this crucial point in the young musician’s development that he made the recording offered on the present CD. In 1977, the 19-year-old Pogorelich was aireday a formed talent, adventurous and imaginative, without the hardness or tension which a high-pressured international career can cause. His program for the 1977 Zagreb recording session was Debussy’s 5th prélude Bruyères, Prokofiev’s 6th Sonata, and a Theme and Variations by Croatian composer and teacher Milko Kelemen. Of these works, the Debussy and Kelemen are unavailable elsewhere.

The Prokofiev, which Pogorelich later recorded again, offers a freshness and flexibility which is unique. One has the impression of being at a live rehearsal, with a relaxed pliant air that is hard to reproduce for an adult pianist under the pressures of a major recording concract. The intangible element of a young artist with life experience and emotions to communicate can only be found when musicians of this age are allowed to make records. Certainly the example of Pogorelich is unique in the archives of Croatia Records, and in the music world generally, young artists are chosen more for digital dexterity than for emotional depth.

Pogorelich managed at the same time to be a Rimbaud of the piano, but also to survive this Rimbaud phase both physically and artistically. Rimbaud stopped writing poetry at about the age when No made his first record. Life experiences for an emotionally ardent young poetic spirit can often be too much, and talents in all artistic spheres can succumb to varied dangers. Today music lovers mourn the loss of another Rimbaud-like spirit, Russian pianist Yuri Egorov, who died of AIDS in his early 30’s. Arthur Rimbaud himself, who set the example of a wildly romantic adolescent genius in the arts, was himself an aspiring pianist. As is perhaps little known, during one of his stays at home, Rimbaud plagued his mother to rent a piano so that he could take lessons. If Rimbaud never quite reached a virtuoso level, and Egorov is sadly no more, fortunately Pogorelich is still with us.

The philosopher and musicologist Vladimir Jankelevitch said that Debussy’s Préludes were “the eternal preface to a statement which will never come”. This slightly mysterious and ambiguous definition is captured in young lvo’s sphinx-like reading. Debussy himself saw most of these works as private statements, unsuited to the concert hail. As such the next best thing to having Ivo Pogorelich play them in your salon as a house guest is to hear this CD. The calm pastoral aspect of Bruyeres is accented by the young pianist’s innate gentleness and docility, different from a fire-breathing adult virtuoso playing the work. Pogorelich joins such modern pianists as Krystian Zimerman and Yuri Egorov who followed in the footsteps of elders like Alfred Cortot, Marcelle Meyer, Gieseking, Michelangeli, and Richter in playing these works magically.

The Prokofiev 6th sonata also has had numerous champions, including Sviatoslav Richter and Glenn Gould, but Pogorelich also has a place in the poetic readings of this “war” sonata. The “barbarism” which Richter saw in this music is clearly expressed throughout Prokofiev’s music, but a poetic vision and a certain lightness of touch, as Gould and Pogorelich gave to their versions, can be a relief from the relentless tragic interpretations of other pianists. At 19, Ivo showed the sort of mettle that makes Martha Argerkh’s resignation from the piano jury an understandable act, and not a fit of pique.

The Croatian composer Milko Kelemen was born in 1924. He studied piano with Melita Lorkovic (see Croatia Records’ CD reissue of Lorkovic playing Beethoven and Schumann). From 1945 to 1951 he studied composition in Zagreb, then went to Paris in 1954–55 to study with Oliver Messiaen. The same year he visited the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, and in 1958–9 spent a year studying in Freiburg with Wolfgang Fortner. His Theme and Variations are an early work, finished in 1949, before most of his study trips. As such, it is a formally careful work, giving a highly classical impression. In later orchestral and chamber works, Kelemen would show more avant-garde influence, with atonal and other “radical” elements. Kelemen furthered these researches by founding the Zagreb Musical Biennale, which he directed. Starting in 1973 he became professor of composition at the Stuttgard conservatory. If his Theme and Variations is thus not really typical of most of the composer’s output, neverthelles, it forms a nice springboard for the young Ivo’s digital skills. An impression of perfect digital control, yet with a potential for breaking out in any direction, gives a narrative interest to this piece which might otherwise lack vivid dramatic interest.

As Pogorelich has not yet recorded any other living composer, this Kelemen work stands as the sole example of what he can do with a work when its author is standing by, ready to answer any interpretive question the player might have. Pressures of recording contract keep some players from ever daring to record new music, but it is to be hoped that Pogorelich will repeat his own adolescent daring one day, and lend his own considerable musical skills to new music. What might he not do with the Boulez piano sonata, for example, or works by Ligeti and Lutoslawski? The late Leonard Bernstein’s American fans picketed his later concerts with signs that read: “We Love You Lenny, Stop Smoking!” Perhaps one day we shall see Pogorelich groupies with signs that say: “We Love You Ivo-Play New Music!”

© Benjamin Ivry / Croatia Records