Barber: Piano Sonata; Excursions; Souvenirs; Interlude I; Ballade

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

WORKS: Piano Sonata; Excursions; Souvenirs; Interlude I; Ballade
PERFORMER: Daniel Pollack (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 8.550992
The big piece here is of course the Piano Sonata, composed in 1949, subsequently taken up by Vladimir Horowitz, and now well established as part of standard 20th-century piano literature. It’s a ferocious, explosive piece, though it has its lyrical and filigree moments too. This recording by the American pianist Daniel Pollack, whose performance in the 1958 Tchaikovsky Competition (and subsequent Melodiya recording) brought him widespread admiration, proves him to be as accomplished an exponent of it now as he was 40 years ago. Excursions (1942-4) presents four pieces, each in a particular American populist style — boogie-woogie, blues, Latin American and barn-dance — while the sequence of dances collected under the title Souvenirs is a demonstration of pastiche at its best, as disturbing, in some ways, as Ravel’s La valse, but also irrepressibly ebullient. There’s also an early work, the Interlude ‘For Jeanne’, which dates from 1931, and the even earlier Three Sketches, each just a few bars long, while at the opposite end of the chronological spectrum the Ballade-(1977) is deeply, unsettlingly obsessive. But collectors beware: this is only the complete published piano music, there being apparently much unpublished.


Competition is mainly for the Sonata, and it’s fierce. There’s Horovitz himself on RCA, of course, as well as younger firebrands like Joanna MacGregor (Collins) and Leon McCawley (Virgin), plus Eric Parkin on Chandos (who also records the complete published piano music, the Three Sketches apart). But the quality of the playing and the recording here are excellent enough, and the price cheap enough, to tip the balance in Pollack’s favour. Stephen Pettitt