Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
Works for Solo Piano
Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35
Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 58
Fantaisie in F minor, Op. 49
Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60
Daniel Barenboim, piano
EMI Encore 85691 [75:25]
24 Preludes, Op. 28
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op. 45
Prelude in A flat, Op. posth.
Berceuse in D flat, Op. 57
Polonaise-fantaisie in A flat, Op. 61
Variations in A (Souvenir de Paganini)
Introduction and Variations on a Theme from Herold's "Ludovic"
Daniel Barenboim, piano
EMI Encore 85453 [74:52]
Preludes - Argerich/DG, Bolet/Philips, Freire/Sony
Berceuse - Moravec/Vox, Rubinstein/RCA
Polonaise - Horowitz/RCA, Kempff/Decca, Richter/Doremi
Sonata No. 2 - Gornostayeva/Revelation, Horowitz/Sony, Novaes/Vox,
Rubinstein '46' & '61'/RCA
Sonata No. 3 - Argerich/EMI, Freire/Philips, Freire/Decca,
Gornostayeva/Revelation, Kapell/RCA Kempff/Decca, Lipatti/EMI, Novaes/Music
& Arts, Pollack/Infinity Digital, Wirssaladze/Melodiya
Fantaisie - Schliessmann/Bayer, Harasiewicz/Philips, Luisada/RCA
Barcarolle - Favre-Kahn/Arion, Moiseiwitsch/Pearl, Sofronitsky/Philips
Summary: Consistently Disappointing
These two discs are at super-budget price, even lower than a Naxos disc.
Some folks would feel that getting Barenboim at such minimal cost is
a dream come true; others might consider Barenboim a nightmare at any
price. Generally, I find Barenboim a highly rewarding pianist except
for his infrequent forays into Bach territory.
Well, let's get to the heart of the matter. It is difficult to warm
up to these two discs because of the sonics and the performances.
The soundstage on both recordings is rather raw and cramped, resulting
in levels of abrasiveness that most listeners will find unattractive;
boosting the volume control only exacerbates the problem. Concerning
the interpretations, it's a rocky road that Barenboim takes us down,
fluidity apparently not one of his major concerns. At the same time,
Chopin's most powerful and concentrated utterances are not fully conveyed.
In the Op. 28 Preludes, Barenboim infrequently offers a true legato,
preferring small bumps in his phrasing; although a technically difficult
way to go when presenting fast arpeggios, I find the rewards minimal.
However, the most damaging feature of Barenboim's interpretation concerns
the lack of excitement he brings to the powerful preludes nos. 8, 16,
18, and 24. In these pieces, the drive and strength is definitely
diminished. I am somewhat surprised with this tepid approach given that
the preludes nos. 12 and 22 display an abundance of punch and grit.
However, all is not lost. Barenboim fully conveys the bleakness of nos.
2, 4, and 6. The serenity he offers in no. 7 is captivating, and there
is no lack of ceremony in no. 9. Perhaps his most interesting approach
comes in no. 23 that is one of the slowest performances on record at
well over one minute. Some listeners might find the tempo sluggish,
but I consider the performance very sweet, loving, and luxurious. So,
Barenboim's way with Op. 28 is very much a mixed bag that is many rungs
below the quality of the comparison versions.
The Berceuse is not a mixed bag; it simply does not fare well in Barenboim's
hands. At almost five minutes in length, he does not project the buoyancy,
playfulness, spontaneity, or conversational elements present in Rubinstein's
1946 version on RCA. Ivan Moravec's account on Vox is also quite slow,
but he delivers the security and love absent in Barenboim's rather cool
The three outstanding comparison versions of the Polonaise-fantaisie
take us from the soft and gorgeous refrains of Kempff to the 'take no
prisoner' account of Horowitz. Kempff's version is the most poetic I
have ever heard, yet he still manages to convey the angst in the music
when required. With Horowitz, I get the feeling he's ready to exterminate
an entire village; his tremendously strong opening to the introduction
provides a determined sign of what's to come. Let's not forget the dimly
recorded Richter interpretation. Richter always overcomes problematic
sound, and his recording of the Polonaise-fantaisie may well be the best
on record with its mesmerizing poignancy and coiled tension. With many
other excellent recordings of the Polonaise-fantaisie to choose from,
Barenboim's rather slow and sluggish performance does not impress.
Barenboim's "Preludes" disc concludes with two variations works that are
all show and no substance. Still, they are quite fetching and rarely
found on Chopin recital discs. Barenboim takes very well to these two
pieces, fully conveying their upbeat and exuberant nature with excellent
virtuosity. However, when the best performances on a disc are of the
least substantial fare, skepticism rears its head.
Turning now to the other Barenboim offering, the comparison versions for
the Piano Sonata No. 2 should be no surprise except for 1986 recording
of Vera Gornostayeva. A relative unknown in the Western World, she is
a splendid Chopin performing artist who routinely dives into Chopin's
angst and lyricism; the other two Chopin Sonatas also grace the disc.
Barenboim doesn't improve as the 2nd Sonata commences. Although he
conveys plenty of power and tension in the Grave introduction to the
first movement, well setting the stage for the "Doppio movimento", he
soon ruins it by allowing the tension to go limp. As for the lyricism
of the first movement, Barenboim's disinterested performance is a far
cry from the wonderful poetry/poignancy of Horowitz and Rubinstein. And
again, Barenboim's harsh soundstage is hard to live with. Fortunately,
the three remaining movements reach a higher standard of performance.
Barenboim generates abundant energy in the hard-driving Scherzo, his
Funeral March is slow and of sufficient weight, and the mercurial final
movement displays a fine sense of detailed disorientation. Still, the
comparison versions possess greater tension and melting lyricism.
I have included in the heading ten exceptional comparision versions of
the Sonata No. 3, and I wouldn't be surprised if other serious Chopin
enthusiasts recommended at least another ten versions of equal merit.
This Sonata is my favorite of the Romantic era, and it irks me to listen
to an interpretation that does not bring out its driving angst, menace,
ceremony, and a few of the most gorgeous melodies Chopin ever composed.
Barenboim's performance of the 3rd Sonata doesn't irk me, but it also
does not make much of an impression. He's at his best in the slower
sections, particularly the dream-like middle section of the third movement.
However, there is a lack of consistent drive in the outer movements, and
his display of virtuosity in the second movement is nothing special and
pales next to the thrilling presentation by Martha Argerich. Best to
stick with the comparison versions.
The wonderful Fantaisie in F minor gets a fairly good presentation by
Barenboim. He does quite well by the poignant themes, but the necessary
tension of the powerful themes is not fully captured. Compared to the
Harasiewicz, Schliessmann, and Luisada versions, Barenboim's has little
sweep or display of architectural detail.
Barenboim concludes the disc with a version of the Barcarolle that
should have ended with the first section where the pianist certainly
offers abundant rapture. However, the more powerful second section finds
Barenboim banging away on the keys with a soundstage that is extremely
harsh; the rapture vanishes. It is such a relief to move to more fertile
territory with the emotional intensity of Sofronitsky, the transcendent
urgency of Moiseiwitch, and the rugged and determined presentation of
Don's Conclusions: Neither Barenboim disc is recommended, and I don't
intend to keep my copies. Too often the music's lyricism is scuttled
by his bumpy legato, its tremendous strength is held in check, and the
soundstage turns powerful phrases into key-pounding exercises. At no
time does Barenboim touch the comparison versions, and a few works are
clearly below the average. With so many exceptional Chopin recordings
on the market, Barenboim's efforts can be forgotten.
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