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Listening Post: Michael Jackson’s ‘Off the Wall,’ Pollini’s and Abbado’s complete DGG work


Michael Jackson, “Off the Wall” Special Edition (Epic/Legacy plus DVD).

“The most important album of Michael Jackson’s career,” claimed Spike Lee’s documentary “Journey from Motown to ‘Off the Wall’ ” which had its premiere on Showtime in early February. “There could not have been a ‘Thriller’ without ‘Off the Wall’ ” say the notes to this definitive special edition of the record the great and ultimately embattled pop genius made when he was 20.

What makes this version of “Off the Wall” is that you not only get the original disc optimally produced but a DVD of Lee’s film with its commentary by everyone from Pharrell Williams and John Legend to Kobe Bryant, Misty Copeland and the album’s original producer Quincy Jones, one of the greatest enablers any genuine American pop genius ever had. Pop music this great never really has an era to begin with which is why it never really dates. Call it a cornerstone of American pop music genius in our time and you won’t get a whole lot of argument. 4 stars

– Jeff Simon


Maurizio Pollini & Claudio Abbado, “The Complete Deutsche Grammophon Recordings” (Deutsche Grammophon, 8 discs).

Once upon a time, a great piano virtuoso and a great conductor could have this kind of near-half century partnership on record – one that began in 1969 when an 18-year-old Maurizio Pollini and an emergent 27-year-old Claudio Abbado performed Prokofiev’s Third Concerto together. You won’t find that performance here but in these performances from the 1970s to the 1990s you’ll find the virtuoso pianist performing with the conductor all the Beethoven Concertos, both Brahms Concertos (the second B-Flat Major concerto twice, once with the Vienna Philharmonic from 1976 and the second with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1995), Schumann’s A-Minor Concerto Op.54, Schoenberg’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra Op. 42, Bartok’s Concertos One and Two and Luigi Nono’s “Coma Una Ola De Fuerza y Luz.”

It is more than a bit of a canard that Pollini is a chilly technician of the repertoire given to gymnastic firepower but not much on warmth or adventure or idiosyncrasy. Anyone so deluded as to give that cliche too much credibility should listen to Pollini’s live 1993 performance of the Beethoven “Emperor” Concerto in which there are actual mini-falters from both pianist and Vienna orchestra – not to mention Luigi Nono’s majestic and haunting (and once controversial) “Like a Wave of Force and Light.” The latter is the fruit of the conductor’s and pianist’s friendship with the political and extraordinary new music composer Nono. Pollini only plays in the piano’s middle and lower registers, abetted in doing so by electronic tape lowering pitches even further. Pollini and Abbado are full musicians in full partnership benefitting both (especially Abbado) and no small sense of adventure, not mere technicians of the catalogue. 3.5 stars

– Jeff Simon

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