Ivo Pogorelich, the supposed enfant terrible of the classical-piano world, sneaked into the shadows cast by popular piano/rocker Elton John, who was also playing in Worcester last Sunday.
The 26-year-old Yugoslav (who has won no fewer than seven piano competitions) has stated he'd like to draw a share of the rock crowd into the world of classics. Reportedly, he has carefully cultivated a young following by extra-musical means - flamboyant manner, flowing hair, leather trousers - as well as by musical means: tampering dramatically with tempo and phrasing, whimsically reversing fortissimos to pianissimos and vice versa.
But based on the flood to Elton at the Centrum, and the relative trickle to Ivo at Mechanics Hall, that meticulously nurtured reclame seems not to have preceded him.
The petulant enfant side of that hype seems ill-founded. Pogorelich appeared with neatly combed hair, in tails, and was nearly expressionless while playing without so much as a wasted gesture. The tempo-tampering charge is well founded, but crowds seem divided on whether this is good or bad. At times in the Beethoven (Sonata in D minor, Op. 111) he dragged perilously slow. This effect can be truly emotional or downright boring based on the particular evening, the acoustics, the listener's position in the hall. Having seen the performance twice, the night before from Carnegie Hall's 26th row, I'll score Pogorelich . 500 - one hit, one miss - with the Beethoven.
What must be said about this pianist in the other repertoire (Bach ''English Suite No. 2,'' Haydn Sonata in A-flat major, and Prokofiev Sonata No. 3 in A minor) is that he may very well be developing the most refined touch in the business. What most pianists do at breakneck speed loudly, he can accomplish at equal speed, but with more precision and astonishing delicacy. You might label his technique muted fury coupled with highly delineated shading. He elicited more gradations of sound - both in finger and whole-hand movements - than any pianist here in recent memory.
Pogorelich seems intent on remaining true to his stylized versions of these classic texts - regardless of audience response or hall size. He seems more interested in exploring new insights, obviously with one eye looking down musical avenues that will separate him from the pack. If he did begin his career in the guise of excess, the pendulum has swung to a supremely cultivated discretion.
One eagerly awaits his further evolution from poseur to pianist.