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Dave Saemann
Fanfare, November 2011

…Daniel Barenboim gave a solo Chopin recital of supremely idiomatic style. Whether in the “Minute” Waltz or the “Funeral March” Sonata, Barenboim is a master of the composer’s sensibility and rhetoric.

Jeremy Nicholas
Gramophone, February 2011

Barenboim takes a cool approach to Poland’s national composer

This great musician and ambassador for music celebrated in 2010 the diamond jubilee of his public debut. He has just signed a new record deal, maintains a hectic schedule conducting operas, orchestras and world premieres and still, somewhat miraculously, finds time to keep in fine pianistic trim. Not that this recital, a prestigious occasion given in the National Philharmonic Hall, Warsaw, on the eve of the 200th anniversary of Chopin’s birth, is one of untrammeled joy.

I suppose it was only right that the programme should consist of some of the Polish national composer’s best-known works, but the first half is notable for its conservative, even mundane, views of the Fantasie and “Funeral March” Sonata (the repeat). The tempi are cautious, the emotions cool. Barenboim seems an almost diffident figure compared to the one conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in an inspired performance of Brahms’s First Symphony recently shown on television. By the second half, however, he has warmed to his task. The Barcarolle and sequence of three Waltzes are quite beguiling, the F major and C sharp minor works presented as touching short stories rather than athletic events (Op 64 No 2 reminded me of Rosenthal’s magical 1929 recording). A change to the enharmonic major leads to the Berceuse for more drawing-room intimacy and, not before time, a change of temperature with a magnificent and genuinely impassioned account of the A flat major Polonaise.

The neat, unfussy direction makes the film a pleasure to watch.

Colin Anderson
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.

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