CD review: Chopin: Nocturnes: Daniel Barenboim

(Deutsche Grammophon)

More Classical CD reviews

The record companies' efforts to squeeze the last drops of revenue out of their back catalogues grow ever more frantic. Taking first prize in the desperation stakes at present must be BMG's Love Notes series, its first three issues launched last week to coincide with Valentine's Day. The covers of Bedroom Bliss with Beethoven, Shacking Up to Chopin and Making Out to Mozart promise "erotic fantasies to maximise your pleasure, from playful overtures to fulfilling consummation". The RCA archives have been ransacked to yield the tracks - a movement of a symphony here, a snatch of piano music there - so that the names of Horowitz and Richter, Colin Davis and Fritz Reiner are associated with this tacky little marketing exercise; "Shagging with Schumann" will surely follow soon .

At least Deutsche Grammophon's new Entrée label has higher aspirations. As the title suggests, it is designed to offer a basic classical library, in digitally recorded, top-quality performances, at medium price. To judge from the first batch of releases it shares the characteristics of most such series, with outstanding bargains alongside issues that are just run of the mill. There is certainly a clutch to avoid here - Leonard Bernstein's collection of Americana, most of it recorded live with the Israel Philharmonic, is just not well enough played to compete with the best budget versions; André Previn's Carmina Burana is not a patch on his earlier EMI version with the LSO; Barenboim's Chopin is heavy-handed and unalluring, Herbert Von Karajan's Beethoven symphonies, recorded in the 1980s are taken from perhaps the least convincing of the cycles he recorded during his career.

The other six discs, though, all have at least something to recommend them. Simon Preston's Bach organ recital (played on the Kreuzbergkirche in Bonn) inevitably begins with the Toccata and Fugue in D minor, but goes on to include the Von Himmel Hoch Canonic Variations and St Anne Prelude and Fugue, in superbly articulated performances. Myung-Whun Chung's Bizet collection fizzes with energy and idiomatic playing. Maria Joao Pires's coupling of Mozart piano concertos is slightly puzzling - the C major K467 is an obvious choice for such a starter collection, but not the D major K537. But both are beautifully voiced, traditional performances to which it would be hard to take exception, and similarly Mikhail Pletnev's account of Tchaikovsky's Pathetique Symphony has all the necessary sweep and scale. The Schubert disc includes one outstanding performance - the Hagen's account of the Death and the Maiden Quartet. It is unmatched by any other contemporary version, though the Trout Quintet here is less special.

Unquestionably the biggest bargain, though, is the Stravinsky disc with its coupling of the complete Firebird ballet and The Rite of Spring that crams 80 minutes of music on to the disc. That is remarkable enough, but Pierre Boulez's performances of both works with the Cleveland Orchestra are wonderfully lucid, exemplary in every way, which should be in every collection, whether basic or not.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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