Daniel Barenboim: The Chopin Concertos

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WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2
PERFORMER: Daniel Barenboim (piano); Staatskapelle Berlin/Andris Nelsons

Superimposing an image of Daniel Barenboim on a wintry Warsaw skyline, the cover of DG’s The Warsaw Recital is a reminder that this great musician took the opportunity of Chopin’s bicentenary and his own 60th anniversary on the concert platform to make a high-profile return to the Polish capital last year. But Chopin has hardly been a central part of Barenboim’s musical life, and the results are mixed. He makes a magisterial start with the great Fantaisie in F minor, viewing it from a German Romantic point of view, yet little else on the disc has the same searching quality.
In his important book Chopin Playing, James Methuen-Campbell once said of Barenboim: ‘His Chopin is both serious and forceful; the Sonatas benefit from this approach, but the lack of poetry in his playing can in the small-scale works rob the music of some of its nature.’ Little has changed, except that Barenboim now makes heavy weather of the Sonata in B flat minor and roughs up the Polonaise No. 6 in A flat. There’s a lack of elegance here, despite the unmistakable acoustics of Warsaw’s National Philharmonic Hall, the atmosphere of which is better enjoyed on Accentus’s DVD of the occasion.
The Concertos, recorded last July at the Ruhr Piano Festival, are another matter. Always authoritative, Barenboim is by turns graceful and gutsy, an especially good combination in the E minor Concerto – and his orchestra, the Berlin Staatskapelle (here under Andris Nelsons), responds warmly, with wonderful woodwind solos. In the strongly accented, dancing finales to both concertos, Barenboim leads the way with playing of suppleness and wit. John Allison