Maurizio Pollini is without doubt one of the great keyboard artists of our time, as his brilliant recital at the NIH auditorium Sunday afternoon demonstrated. He assaults the piano with ferocity, wringing from its innards sounds of rare sweetness and power. His formidable intellect translates even the most dense musical language into simple speech, and his willingness to dare seems unlimited.
Only a supremely confident artist would have considered the NIH program, which paired seminal works from the second Viennese school with music from the giant of classical Vienna, Beethoven. Beginning with Alban Berg's first opus, the Piano Sonata written in 1908, Pollini skillfully underlined the duality of this music which strains toward an atonal future and echoes the romantic past. Then he traced Schonberg's thorny journey from the ambiguity of atonality into the extreme logic of the tone row through the Piano Pieces of Op. 11, Op. 19 and Op. 23. His infusion of emotion into the epigrammatic Op. 19 pieces -- the longest is 18 measures, the shortest only nine -- proved particularly dazzling.
It was an inspired idea to devote the second half of the recital to two Beethoven sonatas, the Op. 31, No. 2, and Op. 53, the "Waldstein." Stressing the drama that these works derive from threats to harmonic stability, Pollini deftly revealed the inevitability of Vienna a century later. His command of the piano, especially in the last movement of the "Waldstein," was awesome.