I purchased this SACD/CD hybrid version of Pollini's 'Polonaises' recorded in the 1976. I have been listening to the re-mastered 24bit version for many years, not having the good fortune to catch up with the initial vinyl LP when it was first released. On the strength of the reviews here, I intended to obtain a multi-channel player to play this, but even before I did that, this SACD already sounds 'great' on my usual vacuum-tube amplified player! If there is any pianist whose 'recordings' fall far short of his/her live performances, it must be Maurizio Pollini. With this SACD, it is at least faintly capable of recalling the ambience of the recording venue. The pianoforte's sound is deep, flexible, multi-hued. I have also listened to Rafal Blechacz's splendid sounding new release of this exactly the same Polonaise programme, again released by DG. The piano sound is extremely good in Blechacz's recording, having had the benefit of 21st century digital technology. However, for a real comparison to take place between DG's two releases with a gap of almost 30 years, you would have to obtain this SACD version of Pollini's. I cannot recommend more this SACD version, and would only say that 'catch this while you can'. Pollini is getting very old by now, and not being 'fairly' dealt with by new upstart 'quasi-professional players' in reviews, which is a great shame. His 'faithfulness' to DG is one of the greatest errors made in his illustrious pianistic career, for sure.
The performances of the pieces in this album are one of the greatest ever one can get. In terms of Chopin interpretation, Pollini is about the most anti-salon and anti-sentimental interpretor: his are 'guns buried in flowers', as Schumann once famously described Chopin's compositions. Sentimentality isn't necessarily a bad thing if the sentiments are rightly echoed. The result of the high-strung approach yields as much to sentimentality as to intelligent musicality, surprisingly in this recording. The most unfortunate news about this set is that the bit-image processing technique is inadequate to remake the depth and breadth of the sound in the Vienna Musikeverin as captured on vinyl when this album was first issued. There is another version on SACD that presumably does better in terms of accoustics, and one would only wish that DG would re-issue the SACD version of this wonderful classic performance.
To my shame it is only recently that I got around to acquiring this disc having been aware of it for a long time and what a revelation it turned out to be! We all know that Pollini has an exceptional technique but the power of this disc comes from how that equipment is deployed on these familiar pieces. It is as if Pollini set out to capture not simply the dancelike and nationalistic qualities of the music, but more importantly the struggles and pain behind the aspirations of the Polish nation. No ethereal or misty romanticism is on show here rather we are given piano playing of drama, passion and huge authority with each of the seven pieces shown to be part of a whole as opposed to individual showpieces. With infinite subtle shadings of light and dark, dramatic contrasts of tempi and the abilty to switch from drama to the meditative in a thrice these accounts are both thrilling and convincing. The recording is superb: full, rich and tremendously alive in the best traditions of 1970's DG analogue recordings. All collectors will have their favourites in this repetoire and Arthur Rubinstein is an essential reference point, but this recording is truly exceptional and deserves a place in every collection of Chopin or great piano playing. Quite simply it makes you listen afresh to the Polish master.
These have always been very good performances, with the "real" Pollini showing up to the original recording sessions, i.e. he of the great Chopin First on EMI in the early sixties rather than he of the brittle, cool Beethoven of the 80's. This is magisterial playing, lacking nothing in either virtuosity or fantasy or dancelike rhythm and drama: Pollini at his very best, and that is very, very good. Has the great Polonaise Fantasie ever been better played (on record at least??) What kept this set from being a first recommendation on CD was always the brittle, bright, clattery piano sound he was given. It's gone!!! The surround remastering here is a revelation. Who would have known that the original recordings contained (and the redbook cd hid) such glories ???!! The recording was made in the Vienna Musikverein, a venue I've experienced only once, - but what an experience that was! Here the ambience in the rear channels appears to be real, 20-rows-back ambience rather than a construct of computerised remastering. And the piano is a real, warm instrument, totally unlike most of DG's spotlit, multi-miked recitals of the 70's. It has not only a depth but a height and huge range to it, from rolling bass to soft brushes of sound. This is as amazing an act of loving and dazzling recreation from the engineers as Pollini's performance is. Stereo-only listeners be warned however - the stereo SACD layer is only slightly better than my redbook "DG Originals" copy. The superb, revelatory sonics I've just raved about are a characteristic of the surround sound layer only (serves you all right for being such stick in the muds). If you ever wanted to hear a single instrument make a compelling argument for multi-channel sound, this is it!!
Yes, as other reviewers have said elsewhere, you really need a multi-channel setup to get the most from this SACD. I used to have this album in its DG Originals incarnation (still available of course), and at the time felt the recording rather clattery - to such an extent that it rendered the interpretations a blank in retrospect. Here I did an experiment - I listened to the famous Polonaise op.44 first in CD stereo, which sounded better than I recall it did on the Originals CD, with more body and little harshness in the upper register. The stereo SACD layer was a little better, but nothing revelatory - but in multi-channel: I can only say 'WOW!', simple as that. The sound opens up dramatically with the hall's ambience (the Musikverein in Vienna) brought into play to wonderful effect. The improvement is pretty staggering - nearly in the same class as Yundi Li's DG Chopin CD, which of course was recorded last year, not in 1975 like Pollini's disc. The use of the rear channels here is very clever - DG's engineers have captured the full acoustic qualities of this great hall extremely well. Performance-wise these recordings are excellent. I've never been a devout Pollini-phile, although some of his recordings are my favourites for certain works, like Schubert's D959 Sonata and Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto (the earlier recording made about the same time as this SACD). Here he is in imperious form, before the element of coolness afflicted his playing in the 1980s - although I have a couple of his most recent CDs, e.g. of the Chopin Ballades where hs also plays in a freer and almost fiery style, as here. Most enjoyable perhaps is his large-scale view of the great Polonaise-Fantaisie which comes over superbly here. I know this work very well, and while Richter's Praga recording is probably my favourite, this is also outstanding. If you've got a multi-channel setup, do not hesitate - otherwise you can stick with the redbook CD in my view. 4.5/5 stars
This set of polonaises took the record buying public by storm when it was first issued in 1976. Pollini was already known for his Chopin recordings and for his great technical command. A popular way of describing his general approach was through words such as aristocratic. All of these features are clearly to be heard on this disc of the most patriotic compositions penned by Chopin.
The important thing to bear in mind with this music is that, unlike much of the rest of Chopin's output, none of these pieces is connected to actual dance despite their title. The title is more of an expression of Polish nationalism rather than of dance music. This also means that they are conceived on a much greater scale than other works so these pieces are more suitable to the public concert hall rather than the private salon.
Pollini plays them for all they are worth as an expression of Polish patriotic pride. They contain more loud music than normal and the rhythms are more relentless especially when listened to right through without a break. Of course they were never intended to be heard in that extended way.
The recording on this disc is very forwardly balanced so the listener feels much closer to the source of the sound. The timbre of the piano is therefore more strident than it would be with a more distantly positioned sound balance. This clearly tells the truth as a recording, but only as if you were in the front row of the audience. In my view this disc is best heard in sections rather than as one continuous listening session when Pollini's brilliance coupled with the close recorded balance may prove to a little wearing eventually.
Nevertheless this remains one of the finest, if not the finest, of the polonaise sets on the current market. Rubinstein gives a more restrained account but his piano sound now seems rather wooden by comparison with more modern recordings.
In summary I would suggest that this disc can be viewed as a benchmark set of performances by which others may be judged. The only issue concerns the very close, somewhat aggressive recorded sound, and that can be accommodated by listening in any other way than straight through without a break. Remember, Chopin never expected listeners to hear these works as a continuous series in one go either, and he probably knew best.
I'm not an expert, but I know what I like. I've been collecting various interpretations of the Opus 53 A flat Major Polonaise ('Heroic') and had up until now though the Martha Argerich 'Legendary 1965 Recording' to be the best. Maurizio Pollini's interpretation is - to my mind - better. I'm afraid that I mostly go straight to Track 6, but I'm sure the others will grow on me in time. This is not a high price to pay for an excellent CD. Well recommended. Just buy it!