Once upon a time there was a 22-year-old pianist who, although or rather because he did not succeed in the 1980 Warsaw Chopin Competition under spectacular circumstances, thereby created the conditions for a brilliant world career, splitting the world into enthusiastic supporters and convinced opponents like no other before him. Martha Argerich, for whom the young Ivo Pogorelich was the outstanding pianist of the competition, left the competition under protest after she was unable to assert her opinion against her jury colleagues. This incident indeed turned out to be an explosive for the career of the young Yugoslav who, with a rarely perfect technique in the concert hall and on records, brushed and brushes well-known piano works against the grain in such a way that he reaped vehement encouragement for his approach as well as no less vehement rejection. Pogorelich was built up and marketed by the well-meaning press as well as by his then label, Deutsche Grammphon, as a pop star of the classical scene, as Mick Jagger of the classical concert stage. He himself supported the Popstar saga to the best of his ability with his extravagant appearance and provocative statements.
In the mid-1990s Pogorelich increasingly withdrew from the regular concert business because he had to struggle with health problems and after the death of his wife, he was no longer active in concerts for a long time. It was not until 1999 that he was back on stage again, and his interpretations, some of which were even more extreme, immediately polarized his audience into enthusiastic supporters and vehement opponents who regarded his interpretations as ingenious or out of debate. Criticism is also split accordingly. The Guardian, for example, described the interpretations of his recital program from the year 2015 as "pathetic" and "deeply unmusical", while the Sueddeutsche Zeitung described the same program as "Hard rubble, piled up with both hands to mountains of expressionist image power". His art is "the encounter with art, the process of recreation, [...] of understanding and reviving" the sound worlds, the "thinking and feeling" of the old masters.
His most recent album with two Beethoven sonatas and the Sonata No. 2 by Rachmaninoff, which was released by his new exclusive label Sony, is likely to meet with similarly polarized criticism. Once again, of course also in the case of the new album, his regular audiences will be enraptured by the contrasting dynamics of his Beethoven playing and by many a run that is completed at breakneck speed, while his opponents will complain that the dynamic par force ride and the passages knocked through unmodulated at the limit of the ear's resilience have nothing in common with Beethoven, who was certainly open to extremes, but not to the uncouth aberrations of taste of a 60-year-old pianist. In the case of the Rachmaninoff Sonata, Pogorelich's followers will ascribe the sometimes roughened, even ugly tone, full of enthusiasm about the art of perfect freedom to the pianist's fundamental distrust of the compositional guidelines. This approach of an interpreter to a work by Rachmaninoff can also be understood as the barbaric atrocity of an uncultivated pianist.
The irony of the story is that it describes a win-win situation, except for purists who value appropriate interpretation, in which the pianist receives emphatic approval among his followers, the press will be able to report in detail and the label will make a considerable turnover.
Ivo Pogorelich, piano