There is no questioning the musicianship or technique of Adolfo Barabino. He performs these six works with accuracy and commitment. There is no hint of routine anywhere. Yet some of his interpretations left me wanting more. For example, the contrast between the sections of the funeral march in the Second Sonata was not as pointed as, in say, Murray Perahia's 1974 recording. Where Perahia presents the central section as a gentle reminiscence of better times, Barabino just gives us different material but the same feeling. Nor does the drama of the scherzo have such impact. Similarly the lilting melodies of the Fantaisie-Impromptu are much less colourful than when played by Artur Rubinstein. The work that suffers most from Barabino's rather plain approach is the wonderful Barcarolle. Where Dinu Lipatti, back in 1948, takes us on a journey through many detailed scenes like a pianistic symphonic poem (it is on YouTube
, listen and see what I mean) here the journey is just a gently swaying boat trip through nowhere in particular. The most affecting playing is found in the three varied and beautiful Impromptus which are much more convincing interpretations. All this is very personal. The problem for any pianist making a disc nowadays is the recorded competition going back through well over a century. The alternatives must run into thousands by now, providing you are tolerant of ancient sound.
One has to ask, why listen to Barabino when you can have Rubinstein, Moiseiwitsch, Lipatti, Pollini, Solomon or Horowitz, all at the click of a button? One answer is that nowhere else does the Steinway D sound so much like a real piano in your room. The physical impact of this DVD-A is very impressive. It is not a matter of 'hifi'; it is matter of transporting one remarkably close to the actual performance. Even the very gentle tap of Barabino's feet on the pedals is (just) detectable, as it would be if you listened attentively from just a few metres back. One tends to forget how powerful a concert grand can be: not without reason have composers felt free to place the instrument up against a full symphony orchestra. It can hold its own with its huge dynamic range. Providing your speakers can take it, this disc is worth turning up to higher than usual levels so the faintest pianissimos are clearly audible, and let the fortissimos fill your room. It never sounds overwhelming, simply correct.
The notes do this issue no favours. There is nothing about the pieces on the disc, just a few poetic thoughts from Barabino himself about performing Chopin's music in general. Look elsewhere for composition dates, dedicatees, the composer's life at the time he wrote these works and the cultural background. Incidentally, the packaging implies this might be a Blu-ray disc as well as a DVD-Audio. It is only the latter but can be played not only on so-called 'universal' players but also on suitably equipped Blu-ray equipment. See the header for details. I had no issues with playback on my Oppo 105.