The young Maurizio Pollini exploded on to the classical music scene in 1960 with this outstanding and moving account of Chopin's Piano Concerto #1, which has since attained legendary status.
That golden period of classical music was crowded with stellar piano virtuosi who were already internationally renowned for their technique, musical individuality, and decades of Chopin recitals: Rubinstein, Horowitz, Arrau, Weissenberg, and Richter are towering examples. All these artists commanded not just respect, but reverence.
Yet, Pollini made a name for himself when he won the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1960, at the age of 18. Rubinstein himself, one of the judges at that competition, is reputed to have declared "This boy can play the piano better than any of us". Pollini made this recording shortly after winning that competition.
Pollini put the world on notice with this performance.
In the first movement Pollini amazingly displays a perfect balance between muscular power and balletic agility - magically spontaneous in its effect. He is greatly aided by the subtle and balanced accompaniment of conductor Paul Kletzki and the Philharmonia Orchestra. Everything blends and melds so wonderfully, and the orchestral nuances truly contribute to the special nature of this performance.
In the second movement, Pollini's playing is poetic, tender, and deft. His choices of rubato in the gently lilting melodies seem perfectly judged - and again the accompaniment by Kletzki et al is in complete sympathy. Listen to the woodwind accompaniment - just the right audible level and warmth in counterpoint with the soloist. And Kletzki does not let the music drag, which might otherwise kill the momentum of a romantic slow movement.
Pollini's technique in the runs and trills of the finale are breathtaking and very very clean, contributing overall to a very exciting conclusion to this great concerto.
Do not be put off by the age of this recording. The remastered sound quality is excellent. Astoundingly so. There is no tell-tale constriction or flatness to the sound at all. The piano and orchestra all sound completely open and full, for the entire performance. I can't overstate how natural and full the piano acoustic is.
The rest is, as they say, history. Pollini is now ranked among the Rubinsteins and Horowitzes, and no one in the ensuing years has released a recording of this concerto to unseat Pollini's from 1960. That is saying something when you think of the field of exceptional piano geniuses of recent times: Askhenazy, Kovacevich, Argerich, Ohlsson, Pogorelich, Zimerman, Ax, etc., to name just some of the most recorded.
It goes without saying (but I'll say it) that the shorter works in this collection, recorded 10 years later, are all excellent, providing additional opportunity for Pollini to display his poetry, technique, and overall artistry.
The shorter works make a nice bonus to the main attraction on this disc: Pollini's legendary performance of Chopin's beautiful Piano Concerto #1.