Pogorelich commits keyboard crimes

March 22, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

If Ivo Pogorelich did to any of the masterpieces in the National Gallery what he did to works of Scarlatti, Brahms and Liszt at the Kennedy Center last night, he'd be in jail this morning.

The Croatian pianist, now 35, has been atop the classical music world for more than a decade. An index of his success is that he sold out the Kennedy Center's huge concert hall. He is a pianist with almost infallible fingers, an enormous (and often beautiful) sound and an uncanny ability to promote himself. But he raises musical distortion to an art form. What he does to musical elements -- whether rhythm, texture, pedaling, melodic contour or balance -- left nearly all of the standard repertory works on his program unrecognizable.

Take the 12 Scarlatti sonatas that occupied the first half of his program. He played the opening E major sonata (K. 20), which is marked presto, at an andante tempo; he turned the D Minor (K. 9) inside out; he made the poignant B Minor (K. 87) so slow it all but vanished; and he sped up the famously lyrical E Major (K. 380) so much that it sounded like the stuff that used to accompany Warner Bros. "Loony Tunes."

And Mr. Pogorelich was just warming up.

In the second half, in which "Pogo" -- as some of his fans call him -- played Brahms and Liszt, the real demolition began.

Brahms' Capriccio in F-sharp Minor (Opus 76, No. 1) was played so slowly -- the piece was 50 percent longer than it is in most performances -- that the composer's cross rhythms dissolved.

In the Intermezzo in A (Opus 118,No. 2), the pianist's tempos were even slower -- so slow that it was impossible to hear phrases.

Liszt's Sonata in B Minor, which concluded the program, was like a horror movie in which Pogo, not the composer, was the star. What kind of star? Let's say a cross between Dr. Frankenstein, because this pianist creates monsters, and Count Dracula, because he sucks the blood out of living things.

Mr. Pogorelich is not the only famous pianist who has distorted music -- Glenn Gould and Vladimir Horowitz both remade the pieces they played with a very personal kind of alchemy.

But they cared passionately about music and always presented a coherent vision of the pieces they played.

To judge from yesterday's recital, the only thing that Ivo Pogorelich cares passionately about is letting his audience know how "original" he is.

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