The Classical Review
, January 2011
For the 90 minutes of this recital, recorded live in the National Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw on 28 February 2010, the viewer can enjoy a generally straightforward presentation of images—long-held shots of pertinent details, such as fingers on keys and a focus on the pianist’s face. Not that Daniel Barenboim gives too much away through his facial expressions; rather he is far more revealing through the sound of his performances (the reproduction of which is clear and immediate)—although the recital as a whole is rather hit and miss in terms of performance quality.
At least director Michael Beyer treats his at-home audience as intelligent enough not to require rapid-fire editing or oblique angles to hold the attention. He might, though, have curtailed some of the applause. One can at least centre on Barenboim’s concentrated efforts to do a good job, even if he is not always successful.
There’s an encouraging start with the great Op. 49 Fantasy, Barenboim searching in the opening paragraphs and creating a sense of expectancy. The ear notices subtle variations of dynamics and appreciates his sensitive touch. The march-like episode and its reprise are gratefully noble and Barenboim’s hands are in good balance (where some pianists highlight the top line.) All in all, this is an impressive opening to the recital (given, of course, during Chopin’s bicentenary year, which also marked the 60th anniversary of Barenboim’s own recital debut.)
However the following Nocturne (in D flat, the second of the Op. 27 set) is just a little too slow with individual notes over-savored; a little more flow is required, but one cannot refuse Barenboim’s obvious affection for the piece. It’s good to have shots of Barenboim caressing the piano’s keyboard and his heroic negotiating of the most complex and challenging passages that Chopin composed—not least in the B-flat minor Sonata (Op. 35) that follows, although it finds Barenboim technically lacking in what is a blustering performance. The first movement (Barenboim parsimoniously omitting the exposition repeat) is muddled and hesitant, the ‘Scherzo’ not much better. The ‘Funeral March’ third movement is somewhat numb and mournful, and the epigrammatic and elusive movement that forms the finale is cautious and lacks suspense.
In what was no doubt the recital’s second half—the concert is presented as continuous (one reason for lessening the applause—there’s a basinful of it after the Sonata and then again immediately to welcome back Barenboim for part two)—this inconsistent occasion continues with a trio of Waltzes (two from Op. 34 and one from Op. 64) that are occasionally lumpy even while Barenboim is alive to their melancholy and whimsy. The Berceuse is gently revealed, somewhat ethereal—a highlight—and the famous A-flat Polonaise is stately, and its rampaging middle section peals and struts with purpose.
Presumably the final two pieces are encores; a Mazurka (the F minor piece from Op. 7) inward and softly strummed, filigree intricacies easefully revealed and with earthier contrasts powerfully sounded; the so-called Minute Waltz (the nickname usually taken as time related, but maybe this soubriquet is more to do with size?) taking 1 minute and 59 seconds (excluding applause) at an ideally relaxed tempo in a lovely and insouciant version to complete an uneven recital.