Ivo Pogorelich is back, and as per usual, his interpretations may evoke love it or hate it responses. The two small Beethoven sonatas are variable. Op 54 starts with an In tempo d'un menuetto where Pogorelich makes sure to contrast the first and second themes to a wide degree, but the minuet, while attractive, is fairly affectless, and the triplets theme is fast and strong, but something seems held back. The Allegretto is all forward motion, with some weighty left hand playing, and works fairly well, but here one wonders what the pianist could have done a quarter century ago. Op 78 fares much better. Pogorelich plays the first movement at a daringly slow 9'15". Many people may not like what he does here, but he largely manages to make his conception work. The sonata becomes sort of like an additional late period work, and that long first movement sounds uncommonly lovely on the surface and exquisitely detailed, but it also sounds like the music is being dissected. But it is next to impossible not to really like how he stretches out the music without making it fall apart, and even if individual phrases and arpeggios get elongated, with extended note values and lengthy pauses, all with personalized rubato thrown in throughout, Pogorelich manages to captivate. Some of the playing makes me wonder what a second recording of Op 111 might bring. The Allegro vivace is also slow, and here the use of rubato is potentially obtrusive, and wouldn't work at all if he didn't both make the music seem slightly humorous and deliver some lovely right hand playing. It's definitely not a standard conception of the work.
In the Rachmaninoff Second, in its 1931 guise, Pogorelich applies some of the same interpretive approach as he did to his Brahms disc, bringing the work in at nearly thirty minutes. This seems preposterous on its face. And it more or less is preposterous. But. But, Pogorelich turns the piece into something different. He can and does play the loud music with ample power in the opening movement, even if it sounds almost ugly and too bass heavy at times, but he also breaks down some passages into short bursts of pure aural beauty mixed with pauses for effect. It's dreamy, hazy, a reminiscence. But it is the Non allegro - Lento that captivates most. Coming in at over ten minutes, it is way too slow, but it feels freed from any structural constraints, a musical stream of consciousness where the pianist uses the score as a starting point, and some of the playing is so ravishingly beautiful, that one may just be transfixed. (Of course, some listeners may entirely detest what the pianist does, which is perfectly understandable.) The Allegro molto has playing that could fairly be described as banging in places, and it sounds uncommonly and unnecessarily thick and blocky, and in a more conventional performance the playing would be basically disastrous, but in this context, it makes more sense, to the extent the interpretation makes sense.
I enjoy the disc quite a bit as a whole, but none of the interpretations are truly great, and Pogorelich does not seem to be what he was in his younger days.
Sound for the recordings, made in 2016 and 2018, is a bit problematic, and certainly not state of the art. The sound is bass heavy and somewhat opaque, and while Pogorelich plays with wide dynamic range, the sonics do not appear to do full justice to that fact. Curiously, the dynamic range seems wider through good headphones. Maybe whatever Sony releases next will be more up to date sonically.