Classical Reissue Reviews

Simon Barere, piano: The Complete HMV Recordings, 1934-36 (APR)

Russian keyboardist of great wizardry, Liszt specialist

Published on June 2, 2005

Simon Barere, piano: The Complete HMV Recordings, 1934-36 (APR)
Simon Barere, piano: The Complete HMV Recordings, 1934-1936

APR 6002  2 CDs:  125 minutes 48 seconds (Distrib. Harmonia Mundi)****:

The keyboard wizardry of Simon Barere (1896-1951) remains one of the
cult favorites among those initiated into Barere’s virtuosic mysteries,
his uncanny renditions of the music of Liszt, Chopin, Blumenfeld,
Schumann, Scriabin, and Balakirev. A pupil of Annette Essipova at the
St. Petersburg Conservatory,  Barere made a reputation for
brilliance of execution and poetic finesse, going on to studies with
Blumenfeld, Neuhaus, and Horowitz. A lightning technician, Barere’s
etudes could rival those of Lhevinne and Levitzky, and only the
pianist’s self-effacing demeanor kept him from garnering more of an
international spotlight. A dazzling mixture of staggering speed and
delicate shadings of pianissimo, Barere’s keyboard palette rivaled that
of Josef Hofmann. Barere’s blinding speeds in some pieces never loses
the sense of inner pulse nor the poetic content of the piece. That does
not mean the demonic impulse will not extract an unexpected gasp or two
from you – as in the case of the 1936 Schumann Toccata, which must have
been inscribed on asbestos.

The music of Liszt dominates Barere’s legacy, and his La leggierezza
Etude justifies the affinity, with its effortless fluency and
aristocratic grace, the fruits of Barere’s studies with Essipova. The
capacity for poetry as well as bravura marks the Petrarch Sonnet 104
and the Valse oubliee No. 1; but for mass and sweep, try the 1934
Rapsodie espagnole and Barere’s calling card, the Don Juan Fantasy
after Mozart’s Don Giovanni, where the cumulative momentum and rush to
the Champagne Aria all but blast through the shellac grooves. 
Unhappy with the first takes, Barere recorded several pieces again, and
APR includes the alternates. Ironically, there are virtues in both
versions of the Don Juan, with the exotic, vocal lyricism in the La ci
darem la Mano section of the earlier rendition. The suppleness of
Barere’s Chopin evokes thoughts of Ignaz Friedman, in the Third Scherzo
and the 2/4 Waltz in A-flat, and the F# Minor Mazurka from Op. 59.

Balakirev’s Islamey was another of Barere’s signature pieces, a dervish
of color and control, with a suave, liquid, middle section that
outshines the more intellectual version by Julius Katchen.  As
Glazounov was an early admirer of Barere, so the pianist returns the
honor, inscribing in 1935 the composer’s Etude in C, Op. 31, No. 1. And
like Horowitz, Barere was a fine exponent of Scriabin’s piano music,
having inscribed the Etude in C# Minor and its more ferocious
companion, the D# Minor Etude from Op. 8.  The arrangement by
Godowsky of French dances by Loeillet and Rameau under the rubric
Renaissance Suite falls into the same category as the Scarlatti
Capriccio Hofmann would tout as authentic. Barere’s playing is
diaphanous and aerial at once, an alchemical mix of clarity and
music-box perfection. Barere was one of the great ones, a peer among
titans whose names evoke the lost art of converting the piano into an
Aeolian harp.

–Gary Lemco




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