Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonatas: No. 2; No. 3. Fantasy in f. Ballade No. 4. Barcarolle
Alberto Reyes (pn)
VAI 1271 (2 CDs: 88:27)
Playing for just over the playing time of a single disc, this is a lovely recording of some of the more famous works by Chopin from the Uruguayan pianist Alberto Reyes. Successful in the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition and the Van Cliburn competitions (1970 and 1973, respectively), he changed life direction dramatically and found employment as an interpreter at the United Nations in New York City.
He retired from that post in 2007. Ironically, he is maybe best known for being used (unwittingly) in the Joyce Hatto hoax: two tracks of his recording of Liszt/Verdi opera transcriptions and paraphrases were lifted wholesale by Concert Artists Recordings.
The Second Sonata begins beautifully and dramatically. Reyes takes the first movement repeat, but only goes back as far as the Doppio movimento (and not back to the Grave, as many pianists favor these days). If contrasts are a little underplayed, this remains impetuous music-making and convincing Chopin interpretation. The second movement Scherzo is no rattled off showpiece for a young virtuoso. Instead, it has a more granitic base, its power directly related to that which fueled the first movement. Even the Trio refuses fully to settle. In essence, this is powerfully discomfiting. It feels like Reyes has reread the score from scratch, and totally individually. His Marcia funèbre is magnificently unhurried, a result of his rock-steady sense of pulse. It is also rather harrowing, the contrasting ray-of-light section a mere glimpse of a better world beyond (albeit a very beautifully phrased and toned glimpse). By keeping the pedal use right down in the Presto finale, Reyes is able to underscore the disjunct, angular nature of the music here.
The F-Minor Fantasy seems the perfect work to follow this thought-provoking account of the Second Sonata. The darkness of the writing is emphasized by Reyes’ subtle shadings. Here, though, there is an intimacy that has not so far been on display. There is perhaps some buried glimmer of hope in the tragedy after all. Another F-Minor work, the Fourth Ballade, closes the first part of the recital (the first disc as well, as it happens). There are times at which it appears that Reyes is exploring sonorities created by Chopin; he will sometimes dwell on dissonances or, more often, dreamy harmonic sequences, almost as if pointing out how this music led, quite naturally, to the fragrant harmonies of Scriabin.
The Barcarolle gives Reyes an opportunity for a slightly lighter take on fantasy. His reading is remarkably sensitive. The recording captures Reyes’ pearly tone to perfection. The Barcarolle prefaces the Third Sonata, the freedom of the former seeming to seep into the latter. The first movement of the Sonata feels improvised (helped, presumably, by Reyes’ determination to record either in complete or extended takes). Some of Chopin’s textures emerge as remarkably bare. Bare, but not emaciated; this is music of exploration. Warmth appears for the first time in the Trio of the Scherzo. One imagines this might be a pre-echo of what Reyes may find in the Largo, but it is not to be. The Largo is heart-breakingly desolate, while the finale is a remarkably varied landscape. Reyes’ fingerwork is beyond criticism.
In his booklet note, Reyes writes eloquently on the need for (or not, as the case may be) yet another recording of the Chopin Second and Third Sonatas and related repertoire, referring as he does so to recordings by Josef Hofmann (the 1935 first movement of No. 3), Moiseiwitsch (Barcarolle, 1941), Cortot (No. 2, 1928), and Michelangeli (No. 2, live in 1959). In a sense Reyes is old school, as he thinks nothing of doubling bass octaves to underline a climax, or of de-synchronizing hands to clarify contrapuntal workings. But to pigeonhole him in such a manner is to demean him. His ability to breathe new life into these works is his strength. It is hearing the freshness of youth coupled with the experience of life that so impresses here. It also makes him rather difficult to classify for comparison purposes. Sometimes Bolet springs to mind in the combination of freedom with a mastery of multiple voicing, but Reyes occupies, in essence, a space all of his own. How very refreshing.
FANFARE: Colin Clarke
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