Barenboim: I used to struggle with Chopin

Now in his late sixties, maestro Daniel Barenboim has only just recorded Chopin’s two piano concertos for the first time. He’s told Classic FM Magazine that the masterpieces pose great challenges for both pianist and conductor.

It’s remarkable that such a legendary pianist as Barenboim has never before recorded these mainstays of the piano repertoire, but Barenboim says he has struggled with Chopin for many years:
“Chopin came to me naturally when I was very young but then there was a long period when I didn’t play his music well. I wasn’t able to balance the subtlety I wanted and the freedom. When I wanted to play something expressive it tended to sound like Brahms. But in the last 10 years I’ve come back to it with a lot of enthusiasm.”

Barenboim explains that the rapid mood changes in Chopin’s piano concertos are the biggest difficulty for pianists.
“From the pianist’s point of view the first problem that comes to the fore… is a tendency to linger over the melodic parts because they are so expressive, almost Italianate – they could be by Bellini – and then suddenly the music goes much faster. So very often you have a feeling that there is no connection.”

Conductors face challenges in Chopin’s piano concertos because they don’t have any previous knowledge of the composer’s style through orchestral music, according to Barenboim. “When they conduct a Beethoven concerto they will have conducted Beethoven symphonies, maybe Fidelio or Missa Solemnis. It’s the same with Mozart and Brahms. But with Chopin’s concertos, unless they have a passion for the piano, they won’t know them.”

Read the complete interview with Daniel Barenboim in the April issue of Classic FM Magazine, out now.