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Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Barabino Chopin - Volume 4
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor Op.21 [32:17]
Berceuse Op.57 [4:50]
Mazurka Op.17 No.4 in A minor [4:47]
Mazurka Op.24 No.1 in G minor [3:20]
Mazurka Op.63 No.2 in F minor [1:48]
Mazurka Op.63 No.3 in C sharp minor [2:18]
Mazurka Op.68 No.2 in A minor [2:54]
Mazurka Op.68 No.4 in F minor [3:00]
Adolfo Barabino (piano - Steinway D585689)
London Symphony Orchestra/Lee Reynolds
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London and St Bartholomew's, Brighton, UK, 14 October, 14-15 November 2014
24bit/192kHz High Definition Stereo
Playable on all Blu-ray and DVD-A players with 24/192 capable DACs.
Reviewed in this format. Also available on standard CD CR6021-2 Stereo.
CLAUDIO DVD-A CR6021-6 [55:18]

A definite step up. Whilst admiring the recording quality I was underwhelmed by Barabino's performance in the previous volume (review). This issue, Volume 4, impresses me much more. I found the Mazurkas engaging and subtle, the Berceuse very affecting indeed: beautifully considered playing that holds one's attention. The major work here is the second of Chopin's piano concertos to be published, though actually the first to be written. He was not a natural composer of orchestral music and the role given to the orchestra is very much as accompaniment to the solo piano, the which has virtually all the meaty stuff to play. The reticence of the oboe, the flute and the other occasional wind soloists is Chopin's own. The orchestra do not play the significant role they do in the concertos by Schumann or Liszt. In some ways this is a pity because so much effort has gone into perfecting the recorded balance between piano and orchestra. Barabino's own notes on the background to the concerto and the solo pieces emphasizes the intimacy and delicacy that Chopin was seeking. I must say this is splendidly achieved in all the music on this disc. I am intrigued by the bell-like tones Barabino extracts from his Steinway. A much more emphatic sound normally comes from such an instrument. Interpretatively Barabino is well away from the old-timers like Rubinstein who treated this concerto to a more swashbuckling approach, swinging into the rhythms wherever possible and providing a much less introverted impression. Given that this concerto, especially the larghetto, is 'Chopin in love' (when was he not?) I have to agree more with Barabino's slow and introspective performance. He actually takes well over two minutes longer than Rubinstein's famous old Living Stereo recording and given Lee Reynolds' undemonstrative way with the orchestral accompaniment Barabino's loving approach is allowed free rein. This might be unwise in the hands of someone less able to extract such refined tones from the piano but here it provides much pleasure.

Since this issue is on an unusual format, DVD-Audio, further comment is appropriate. Recording Engineer Colin Attwell has gone into a lot of detail in the pro-audio magazine Resolution explaining the complex background to this project. Perhaps all that matters to the listener is that this sound is achieved with just two microphones. To put that in context, the standard recording session involves at least 40. As Colin says, "we are all delighted with the warm and beautiful sound that minus 38 microphones can make." How this comes over on a domestic system is intriguing and in one way unexpected. As mentioned, the piano has a strikingly bell-like sound in both venues (see above), but the Henry Wood Hall, used for the concerto only and a well established recording space, seems to have an ungenerous reverberation time and to be somewhat boomy; certainly it does not give much assistance to the otherwise very natural sound-picture. The instrumentalists are all clearly placed and in the case of the winds sound quite close to the microphone pair. One must ask what this team would make of a bigger acoustic. From the front centre of the arena during the Proms the Royal Albert Hall sounds both clear and spacious. How about a simple microphone set-up at that point?

Dave Billinge



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