Maurizio Pollini played Mozart and Schubert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall Saturday night in a program designed to give ample outlet both for Pollini's intellectual rigor and his resplendent tonal palette.
Normally, if a pianist has one of these gifts, it is without a matching amount of the other. This powerful pair of strengths has made the self-effacing Pollini into a star very fast, as Saturday's sellout with overflow seats around him on stage indicated. Never mind that Pollini, who just turned 40, almost ignored the listeners, not once smiling during almost 2 1/2 hours.
The first half of a very beautiful evening was devoted to Mozart and the second to Schubert (later, Schumann did manage to be heard, in an exquisite encore performance of the "Arabesque").
The program began and ended with fantasies. The Mozart C-Minor Fantasia is one of the composer's most brooding works. In a relatively free form like this, Mozart's music seems more autobiographical than normal--more like a soliloquy than a tightly organized metric unit.
Pollini plays this kind of music classically, as if to say that the sense of introspection and improvisation is already in the music, and he need add no emoting of his own. It was the same in the C-minor sonata that followed, which Mozart meant to be played in tandem with the Fantasia. Because a sonata demands that its materials play certain necessary roles, such as moving into a particular key at a particular time, the melodies flow less freely than in the Fantasia. But the mood, enhanced by the forward momentum that builds in a sonata, was no less foreboding. That mood continued in the anguished B-minor Adagio that followed.
Then the harmonic skies opened and we were bathed in the warmth of D-major, as Pollini dashed into the K. 576 sonata, one of Mozart's most radiant and taxing works. It is especially full of contrapuntal voices; not only are they hard to play at all, but at Pollini's tempos they are hard to make clear. Nonetheless, all was clarity and light. Pollini's tone was wonderfully poised and there was a sense of euphoria from such buoyant and graceful music-making.
The Schubert half of the program began with one of his less well-known sets of impromptus--this set with three from his last year. They are episodic works, less songful and tender than the impromptus we know best, and sounding at times a bit like some of the introspective Brahms that would come more than half a century later.
And finally, we were back to the fantasy--and to the most famous and rousing work of the evening, Schubert's four-movement Fantasy, each movement based on material from his song, "The Wanderer." It is High Romanticism at its most virtuosic, and is sometimes played more as a spellbinding display than as the fine piece of music it is (Liszt set the precedent on this). Pollini kept the pulse very steady; the sound was big and pure, but he reined in enough so that the lines were not obscured. In short, it was superb.