Simon Barere Complete HMV Recordings, 1934-36
Whereas even the minimally musical are probably familiar with the name of Horowitz, few except the middle-aged and piano buffs are likely to react to the mention of his senior by eight years, Simon Barere, whose virtuosity was in the same class, and who had studied with the same professor. Though he created a sensation both in Europe and in the USA (where he eventually settled), his career suffered various interruptions, and ironically the greatest publicity he attracted was when he collapsed and died during a Carnegie Hall performance of the Grieg concerto in 1951.
Bryan Crimp has rendered valuable archival service not only by dubbing from 78rpm discs all Barere's HMV recordings from the 1930s (when they spelt his name without the final 'e') but by providing a discography detailing the various 'takes' made at the ten sessions he undertook at the Abbey Road studios and, most instructively, by also including some rejected takes of four of the works. (In a few cases Barere was dissatisfied with his playing after the records had been issued and asked for alternative versions to be substituted.) The wax recording techniques of those days did not allow of any corrections or tidying-up, and though in excitable climaxes Barere's playing did tend to become a bit splashy—the attitude of his generation was that a few wrong notes were of less importance than vitality and characterful music-making—the overall impression left by these transfers (from which not all surface noise could be filtered without loss of piano quality) is of highly-sensitive lyricism as well as consummate technique. In particular the sheer velocity and evenness of his finger work is staggering: Liszt's La leggierezza, for example—his very first HMV recording—is given a performance superlative in its delicate poetry and dazzling virtuosity, and there are many passages elsewhere (as in the Glazunov Etude and his famous recording of Islamey, which sweeps forward like a whirlwind) where one has to keep reminding oneself that there could be no question of any enhancement of the speeds. In a few pieces, in fact, Barere succumbs to the temptation to play faster than the music warrants (in the Chopin waltz, for instance, he takes the quaver passage more and more rapidly at each recurrence, with some consequent crashing gear changes). But side by side with such pyrotechnics as the left-hand study by his former teacher Felix Blumenfeld there are serious and strongly conceived interpretations of the Chopin C sharp minor Scherzo and of Liszt's Spanish Rhapsody, which display his wide dynamic range, command of tone-colour and sense of structure. I still treasure his 78s in my library, but this welcome issue brings Barere's phenomenal gifts alive to a generation which never knew him.'