In the afterglow of Maurizio Pollini's recital Saturday night in the Kennedy Center, it is hard to think of any pianist today who would be as satisfying as the great Italian was in music by Schumann and Chopin.
His performance of the Schumann Fantasy was a total realization of all that Schumann pured into his great declaration of love for Clara Wieck, whom he desperately wanted to marry. (Her father forced a postponement of their marriage for close to seven years.) The Fantasy asks everything in the way of romantic poetry from a pianist. Its lyric lines anticipate Schumann's later outpouring of songs. Its heroic middle section is one of the most dangerous highways in all the literature. And its closing pages reach unparalleled heights of pure adoration.
Pollini has not merely the technical prowess to dispatch the hazards of that central episode with clarity, power and unbridled courage. He has also the musical imagination and the poetic insight to let the music breathe, to wait in a hushed pause, for the ineffable note or chord that Schumann places with perfect intuition.
The Pollini who turned from that Fantasy to the complete Preludes of Chopin and made them seem not only fresh but, one by one, glories of thought and contrast is one of the giants of our time. There are 24 of these brief preludes; to single out Pollini's mastery of them would require 24 separate comments. For that there is no need. It is enough to remember those in F Sharp Minor, C Sharp Minor, F Sharp Minor, the G Major and the final D Minor as moments of extraordinary beauty.
That Pollini opened his recital with the almost unplayed Morning Songs -- Gesaenge der Fruehe -- by Schumann is a further tribute to this rare artist. They are lesser Schumann as anything he wrote is when placed next to the Fantasy. But their late, darkling mysteries are eminently worth hearing when illuminated by a Pollini. That the audience refused to let the master pianist go without encores won them the whirlwind A Minor Prelude and the D Flat Nocturne, played on that same highest level as the rest of the concert.