Notes and Editorial Reviews
Sonata No. 60 in C,
Ballade in f,
D 760, “Wanderer”
Dianne Baar (pn)
PREISER RECORDS 91206 (55:42)
Concert Etudes for Piano:
No. 1, S 145, “Waldesrauschen.”
Concert Etudes for Piano:
No. 1, Op. 40
I am not quite sure of her age, but the South Korean-born, Vienna-based pianist Dianne Baar is definitely very young—based on the photos included in the booklet of the recording, I would guess no more than in her early 20s. Age, however, is just a number. For one thing, Baar started playing the piano at the age of three, and she now counts among her mentors and teachers some of the world’s leading artists, including Leif Ove Andsnes, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, and Valentin Gheorghiu (a great Romanian pianist whose name will most likely not ring a bell). Even more importantly, Baar’s music-making already evidences the poise, expressivity, and wisdom of a fully realized master pianist. In the outer movements of the oft-played Haydn sonata, Baar impresses with her pinpoint articulation, control of dynamics, and keen sense of proportion. This truly is a demonstration in how Haydn ought to be played, and it is also proof that the impish humor that characterizes many of this composer’s works only comes through if the pianist pays close attention and gives full due to the carefully timed rests Haydn stipulated in his scores. If anything, the
is even better. Baar has the ability to mold a phrase while preserving its structural integrity, and that rare gift works wonders here.
Chopin’s F-Minor Ballade is one of this most popular of composers’ most popular works, and rightly so. That said, the Ballade remains an elusive score that poses myriad interpretative challenges and, frankly, I have only heard a dozen or so performances that have made a lasting impression on me. Baar’s version belongs on that list, somewhere very near the top. This is a performance of supreme—and at times heart-aching—lyricism that brought back very personal memories I associate with this score. Baar clearly thinks in paragraphs, rather than phrases, and her unhurried retelling of Chopin’s intricate narrative clarifies its architecture, allowing the listener to follow the first subject’s remarkable metamorphosis. This is a reading to treasure, alongside those of Artur Rubinstein, Sviatoslav Richter, Ivan Moravec, and Krystian Zimerman.
In the “Wanderer,” Baar’s youthful exuberance may not match the nervous energy, catapult projection, and athleticism of Richter, whose towering 1963 EMI recording remains my point of reference, but she comes within striking distance and that is very high praise. Indeed, besides some ritardandos I found slightly off-putting in the opening
, I’d be hard pressed to name a single thing I dislike about Baar’s performance. The two encores are delightful. Predictably, the Liszt etude is dispatched with unflappable fluency, although other pianists, most notably Claudio Arrau and Jorge Bolet, seem to me to dig deeper in this score. The Kapustin etude, in which Baar’s agile fingerwork more than holds its own against that of the superhuman Marc-André Hamelin, provides a brilliant conclusion to a brilliant recital.
The quality of the engineering is outstanding. The recording was made in the Baumgarten Casino in Vienna on a gorgeous Bösendorfer Imperial. Baar has good taste in pianos too: some 25 years ago, the same instrument was hand-picked by Friedrich Gulda for a recording project. All in all, this is terrific playing. There is no doubt in my mind that Baar has a huge career ahead of her, and I very much look forward to following her trajectory in the coming years.
FANFARE: Radu A. Lelutiu
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