Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini, who has just turned 77, is most famous for his recordings of core 19th-century repertoire, including Chopin, Schubert, Schumann and Beethoven. For nearly six decades he has enjoyed a stellar concert and recording career in which performances of Chopin’s piano music have been a central feature, beginning in 1960 when he won the International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw at the age of 18.

Recently, Pollini has been returning to Chopin’s late works; in 2017 he recorded Opp. 59-64 (composed from 1845-7), presenting each work in its compositional context and observing their coherence as a group. For this new collection, Pollini turns his attention with a similar approach to the works immediately preceding these: the Opp. 55-58, composed from 1843-4 and presented here in chronological order. The second of the two Nocturnes that comprise Op. 55 is particularly noteworthy for its emotive expressiveness; this is followed by three Mazurkas (Op. 56). The unutterably beautiful Berceuse in D Flat (Op. 57) is rooted in a sound world of harmonic stasis that enables a stream of upper register chords to cascade in a cyclic reverie. In the hands of Pollini, the effect is hypnotic and ecstatic.

Chopin’s third and final Piano Sonata (Op. 58) is tense, monumental, explosive and lyrical. Pollini, renowned for an extraordinary technique that combines utter precision with great lyrical depth, produces a riveting reading that is breathtaking, especially his lightning tempo in the final movement. The recording is close, warm and nuanced, crisp without being clinical (just like Pollini) and very intimate – Pollini’s enraptured humming is occasionally (but not distractingly) audible. In 2005 at an all-Chopin Pollini recital at the Royal Festival Hall in London, the audience (including me) went so bonkers that Pollini graced us with five encores. This stunning recording might go some way to explaining why.

Composer: Chopin
Composition: Nocturnes, Mazurkas, Berceuse, Piano Sonata No 3
Performer: Maurizio Pollini p
Catalogue Number: DG 4836475