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The sole survivor of a once-proud trio of Italian friends that included composer Luigi Nono and conductor Claudio Abbado, pianist Maurizio Pollini is in the sere and yellow leaf of his career. Born in 1942, Pollini is not among those elderly pianists who seem to frolic in eternal adolescence, such as Arthur Rubinstein did. Instead, Pollini, whose most significant recording of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto was with Karl Böhm in the 1970s, is raging against the dying of the light in this adamant performance.

King Lear on the heath is one valid approach to this long and majestic work, but the pianist requires a more supple, pliant accompanist than the sternly Teutonic Thielemann, whose charmlessness makes it seem as if Brahms had never left Northern Germany, instead of spending most of his adult life around gemütlich Vienna. As a result, the always-idealistic Pollini can sound laboured and out of sorts.

When his technique was surer, years ago, the dignified formality of his approach was surer to inspire, just as recordings of the Second Brahms Concerto by other pianists such as Emil Gilels and (perhaps surprisingly) Vladimir Horowitz were revelations because technical problems were dashingly surmounted instead of muddied in over-pedaling. Curiously provincial and dull CD booklet notes about how Pollini had not played in Dresden for 25 years before this recorded concert, a fact of interest only to Dresdeners, further make this release a curiosity rather than a must-have.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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