Photo by Phillip Nangle
Ivo Pogorelich’s Royal Festival Hall concert, part of the Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series, was the pianist’s first London solo recital since 1999 and the critics were out in force, pencils sharpened, ears pricked. Pogorelich told this magazine in no uncertain terms that this was not a comeback concert (cover story, issue 29, January/February 2015). But it was, and everyone was fascinated to hear what this controversial pianist had been working on.
A few pages into Liszt’s ‘Dante’ Sonata, my heart sank. Pogorelich did not seem on top of his game; he fiddled with the piano stool, employed extreme levels of rubato and lacked any sort of sensitivity in his touch. While there is nothing wrong in playing with sheet music – IP has discussed at length the issue of memorisation and the unfair pressures it places on pianists – Pogorelich remained buried in the pages, seemingly sight-reading the music. Schumann’s Fantasie in C followed, a drawn-out, expansive affair that saw the Croatian pianist take a full 37 minutes over a work that usually lasts around 32. In both works the sound felt dry, and despite the lengthy phrasing, notes were not finished properly. There were snippets of beauty, particularly in the finale, but the listener needed to embrace the unusual pacing, which this writer failed to do.
Those who did connect to Pogorelich’s unorthodox style found slivers of genius in his rendition of the Brahms Paganini Variations. But many did not stay past the first half, myself included, finding the experience uncomfortable and pondering the pianist’s wellbeing. Perhaps the pressure had simply been too much. Or perhaps this divisive style was the intended fruit of his labour.
It’s unlikely we’ll find out via another interview any time soon. In the days that followed, every broadsheet – with the exception of The Independent – panned the recital, giving it one-star (Guardian, Telegraph) and two-star (FT, Times) reviews. Poor Pogorelich. We demand individuality and creative programming – but that on its own just isn’t enough.
This is my last issue as editor of IP. After four years and 25 editions I am moving on to pastures new. It has been a great pleasure to work at the helm of this esteemed publication. May I take this opportunity to thank my colleagues at Rhinegold Publishing, advertisers, interviewees, agents, artists, distributors and contributors – but greatest thanks to you, dear reader.