February 7th, 2008
Essay by C. Way – Copyright © 2008 SnailCrow.com
To me, watching Ivo Pogorelich play Chopin as he does here in the 1980 Chopin competition in Warsaw is not much different to me than watching Otis Redding sing “Shake” or Iggy Pop writhe on stage to something off Funhouse. It’s like seeing Coltrane blow holy hell out of his sax. It’s like hearing Patti Smith sing stairs up into the night on “Birdland.” Or Howlin Wolf throttle his guitar neck and sing the rafters into splinters. It’s pure channeled soul: the kind that’s wracked and hurt & fearful and writhing but swept up and organized in a solid mountain of feeling. The heart’s blood, black and wild, captured & focused in a sealed vial of white glass.
From what I understand, Martha Argerich, a judge at the Chopin competition from which this video’s taken (and a legendary Chopin interpreter in her own right), walked out when Ivo was eliminated. I can see why. If for no other reason that these are two Chopin interpreters who capture what’s hardest to capture in this composer’s works: delivering all the massive shifts in feeling without making it seem fragmented, schizophrenic, and doing so with tremendous technique.
Chopin’s works speak to me in part because they depict extremes of emotion side by side as they really (and uncomfortably, sometimes) exist in the human heart; Ivo speaks to me because he seems to understand this intuitively in how he plays. He switches from the most delicate and aching touches to the most hammering fortissimos without making you think he’s just playing up contrast/shock-value. His rubato, his pacing, it all shows a piano player who feels (rather than has read) that Chopin was a revolutionary of the heart’s mapping as much as he was of the keyboard’s.
This is how he plays the Scherzo no. 3: as the story of one human heart struggling and battling, in tragedy and absurdity, unifying it all by making the emotional vicissitudes (which are so characteristic of Chopin’s Scherzos) seem less like hodgepodge extremes yoked together and more like different portraits of the same human face — like Monet’s haystacks seen in varying shades of light. All of a piece, despite the changes, despite the furious switching.
Anyone else out there a huge Chopin fan? Any other interpreters you can recommend?