Chopin: Nocturne No 1, Op. 55, in F minor
Chopin: Nocturne No 2, Op. 55, in E-flat Major
Chopin: Mazurka No 3, Op. 56, in C minor
Chopin: Barcarolle, op. 60 in F-sharp Major
Chopin: Berceuse, Op. 57 in D-flat Major
Chopin: Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61
Chopin: Nocturne No 1, Op. 62, in B Major
Chopin: Nocturne No 2, Op. 62, in E Major
Chopin: Sonata No 3 in B minor, O. 58
The Washington Performing Arts Society had obviously decided to conclude it Star Series with an (intellectual) bang in the person of Maurizio Pollini, the quintessential musician's musician, who was presenting an all-Chopin program on Wednesday at the Kennedy Center. As well-known for his impeccable technique as for being a cerebral Italian (not an oxymoron in this case), the illustrous pianist has been dazzling audiences all around the world for decades now, and I was really intrigued at the prospect of witnessing such a master of meticulousness handle Chopin's unabashed sentimentality.
The verdict is that not only did the two opposites attract, but they made beautiful music together as well. Starting a concert with not one but two Nocturnes may not be that common, but he of course got away with it by surreptitiously capturing our attention while carefully bringing out all their delicate nuances. The following Mazurka was a soulful display of Chopin's affection for his home country, the Barcarolle was as sweepingly romantic as it could get considering the soloist, and the Berceuse (lullaby) delighted the child and the adult in all of us. Then things got simultaneously intricate and intense with the Polonaise-fantaisie, but Pollini made sure to keep it all fun and clean, which is no doubt even harder than it sounds.
The second part of the program started with two new Nocturnes, and also featured Chopin's Sonata No 3 in B minor with its exciting mix of serenity and turbulence, which Pollini easily mastered by carefully balancing surgical precision and florid Romanticism.
Just as we were savouring what we thought was the end of our delightful evening, he came back for no fewer than three Chopin encores, concluding his performance as expertly as he had started it with Chopin's Ballade No 1 in G minor.