You may not get quantity from Maurizio Pollini but you do get quality, as well as involved sniffs and vocalising as he rapturously floats the first of the two Opus 55 Nocturnes, not prettified in any way yet compellingly effective and dynamically aware. Its E-flat companion wakes with a fortissimo startle, Pollini going on to clarify the music’s complex counterpoint in a heightened expressive manner, darkly ecstatic.
The Opus 56 Mazurkas have their dance and bittersweet aspects in tandem, heard to best advantage in the B-major opener, the succeeding D-major piece being strong (earthy) of rhythm and vigorous of tempo, the C-minor then blending elements of both its predecessors, tinged with some regret; a reading of light and shade and telling volumes. Following which the Berceuse begins gently-does-it, but this is no soothing lullaby as Chopin’s ever-increasing and elated decoration is meticulously added.
These entrées lead to the B-minor Sonata, Pollini unleashing a fiery first movement (exposition repeat observed), the second subject integrated into this smouldering missive yet with no lack of shape or sensitivity, the development a marvel of musical and emotional clarity. Pollini takes the rest attacca (more or less). Thus the Scherzo is a whirlwind, all notes in place though, and the Trio is made part of the whole, while the slow movement is Heaven-sent, perceived whole yet with no lack of heart, and the Finale is a tour de force, not so much fast and furious as heroically on-course, although one or two grace notes worried me.
Pollini’s Chopin may not be for those who like this music sweet (Pollini percolates flavoursome coffee without additives), distended or ultra-romantic, but for the bigger picture, especially in the Sonata, these are readings to treasure, superbly recorded, too, capturing the pianist's sigh of relief at the Sonata's end.