On my new piano
Deutsche Grammophon, 2016
Daniel Barenboim celebrates with this album his new piano, which he commissioned to the Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene after he had been fascinated by the sound of Franz Liszt’s restored instrument, which he got the opportunity to play in Siena some years ago. Barenboim’s piano, which took its name after him, is a fabulous instrument of original conception and design and, as the booklet carefully explains, has the peculiarity to have «straight parallel strings instead of the diagonal-crossed ones of a contemporary piano. The wooden soundboard veins go in different directions. The bridges, ribs and bracings are specially designed and the hammers and strings (yellow brass rather than red brass) have been repositioned».
The new piano was revealed to the world in May 2015, when Barenboim gave a short performance of Beethoven’s Appassionata in front of a small audience, first playing the piece on his traditional Steinway and then on the other instrument.
On my new piano is an album which arouses one’s curiosity for many reasons, but I have to confess that its result was not as satisfactory as I expected. As for the instrument, it has a particular, clear sound which makes it clearly different from any other modern piano I have heard before and similar to more ancient instruments. You cannot fail to love and admire it. Barenboim’s performance, on the other hand, was not what I expected and I have to confess that his approach sometimes perplexed me. I am not referring in particular to Scarlatti’s three sonatas, since I somehow expected the Romantic style he applied to them and the slow tempi he chose, and I did not have the impression that the compositions have lost their brilliance, but that they changed the way to express it (it is a matter of personal preferences if this is tolerable or not).
I found more difficult to accustom myself to the next pieces, Beethoven’s 32 Piano Variations and Liszt’s three pieces: Solemn March to the Holy Grail from Wagner’s Parsifal, 10 harmonies poétiques et religieuses and Mephisto Waltz. I enjoyed more Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, op. 23, because its liquid sound was actually enthralling. As for Beethoven, the Piano Variations are a little too heavy at the beginning, but it has sense when you consider the rest of the performance. Liszt’s Solemn March, on the other hand, is interesting because, after some pieces which are more or less animated and light, proves the piano on more sombre, almost mournful, sounds. Liszt’s last two pieces is far less impressive, especially the Mephisto Waltz. This work is sparkling and brilliant, but it is a little too “angelical” for my taste and I missed the mordacity which I like to listen to.
On my new piano presents thus this disparity between the perfect instrument and Barenboim’s sometimes unusual interpretation. This is a pity, because the album could have been magical and instead it missed the mark.