This 2011 release of Frédéric Chopin's Piano Concertos No. 1 and No. 2 is a first for Daniel Barenboim, who previously recorded the complete Nocturnes for Deutsche Grammophon, some of the solo piano music for EMI, and perhaps most famously, the Cello Sonata in G minor with his late wife, Jacqueline du Pré. Otherwise, Barenboim has appeared to have neglected Chopin, and that's a shame, because this music is tailor-made for him. Indeed, he is quoted on the CD: "When I play Chopin I feel a kind of purely physical pleasure that I get from no other composer's music." Regarded as an introspective pianist who plays with his emotions held close to the vest, rather than worn on his sleeve, Barenboim finds an expressive match in Chopin, who was similarly reserved, rarely demonstrative, and suspicious of grandiose displays. The concertos are models of pianistic decorum, far from the splashy showpieces of Franz Liszt, and the modest expressions of the music hearken back to the Classical era, especially to Chopin's idol, Mozart. Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin, conducted by Andris Nelsons, at times produce a sound that is almost Mozartian in its elegant tone and gossamer texture, and even though they are fully aware that they are playing Chopin, the tasteful balance they strike is something both composers would have appreciated. The concertos were recorded live at the 2010 Ruhr Piano Festival, so there are some incidental noises that serve as reminders, especially whenever Barenboim thumps his foot, but the sound is surprisingly clean, close-up, and vivid for a concert recording.
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AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
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