The fermatas made them do it: Less than a minute into his latest Los Angeles recital Sunday night in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, Ivo Pogorelich was greeted by loud waves of coughing. Slow movements sometimes inspire our local music-lovers to such noisy, winter-time obbligatos, but this was particularly distracting.
What the hacking in the audience covered sporadically was an especially willful and reconsidered performance of Beethoven's D-minor Sonata, Opus 31, No. 2. Sometimes this work is called "The Tempest," but that appellation had nothing to do with Pogorelich's rethought reading of it on Sunday.
It often seemed, in all three movements, like a meditation on a meditation. The climaxes in the opening emerged subdued, the anguish of the slow movement underfelt, the anger in the finale muted.
At the famous recitative in the first movement, where Beethoven specifies that the sustaining pedal be held down, Pogorelich chose to do the opposite; surprisingly, the shock effect still worked.
The Yugoslav pianist seems always to stir a little controversy. At 29, he commands an abundance of technique and musical ideas and a penchant for looking into familiar scores with fresh insights. On this program, devoted also to Beethoven Sonata, Opus 111, Scriabin's Second Sonata and Ravel's "Gaspard de la Nuit," he repeated his success at being different.
The C-minor Sonata, which Pogorelich had played here in 1984, again benefited from a literal approach. The violent opening movement certainly moved towards its high points convincingly in this sculptured, cumulative and deceptively spontaneous reading. But the seraphic Arietta remained earthbound, despite a finicky note-honesty on the part of the pianist. These two movements ought to represent struggle and catharsis; in this performance, release never came.
The oddball programming of Scriabin's G-sharp-minor Sonata might have been fascinating had Pogorelich made clear why it appeared on this agenda. True, he played it with affection and care, and many handsome moments appeared. Still, he did not make a compelling case for it; it sang, but not persuasively.
With the Ravel suite, however, the pianist swept all before him. As he had done at his first solo recital here--at Hollywood Bowl in 1983--Pogorelich found, mastered and delivered the aqueous and kaleidoscopic pianistic colors in this rich and complex work, all the while apparently dismissing its technical intricacies. Every successful performance of "Gaspard" is brilliant, of course; this one became resoundingly so.
At the end, and after a little coaxing from what appeared like a full house in the Pavilion, there was a single encore: the virtually forgotten, wonderfully cherishable Nocturne in E-flat, Opus 55, No. 2, by Chopin.