Though he may have ripened, one wouldn't say Maurizio Pollini has mellowed much as a Chopin player. He was on fire when he won the 1960 Chopin competition, incandescent when he recorded Chopin's etudes in 1972, blazing when he recorded Chopin's Second and Third sonatas in 1984, and furious when he recorded Chopin's ballades in 1999. And he's still a firebrand in this 2008 recording of Chopin's Opus 33 and Opus 36 through 38, an unwieldy title that translates into works written almost entirely in the composer's late twenties: the second ballade and second sonata plus four mazurkas, three waltzes, and the Impromptu in F sharp minor.
In nearly every movement of every piece, Pollini is coruscating in his brilliance. His technique is as always beyond compare for speed, accuracy, balance, articulation, and dexterity. And as always his tone is polished to a sparkling brightness with every inflection of the music projected with unerring clarity. But now, Pollini seems faster, brighter and more driven than ever before. His two vivace waltzes, the A flat major and the F major, race forward at a stunning clip and the two chords that close the sonata's brief Presto finale are all but hurled at the piano. There's more to his performance than mere velocity, though. Pollini's attacks now sound almost abrupt in the ballade's transitions and his sonorities sound almost clipped in the sonata's opening Grave -- Doppio movimento. This may serve only to increase the excitement for some listeners, but for others, it may appear as if Pollini is flirting with aesthetic violence, and they may worry that, in Wilde's words, he could wind up killing the thing he loves. Deutsche Grammophon's digital sound is big, close, and a bit dry.