CHOPIN:  Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58. Ètudes, Op. 25.  Trois nouvelles etudes.
Nelson Freire, pianist
DECCA 470 288 (F) (DDD) TT:  58:58

SCHUBERT: Sonata in E, D. 157 (unfinished).  Sonata in G. D. 894.  Der Müller und der Bach (arr. Liszt)
Arcadi Volodos, pianist

SONY CLASSICAL SK 89647 (F) (DDD) TT:  63:58

Two welcome new recordings, the first featuring Brazilian-born Nelson Freire who gave his first public performance in 1948 when only four years old. Arcadi Volodos, the sensational Russian born in 1972, waited until he was in his mid-teens before beginning serious study at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, then took off like a rocket.  Within a decade he was dazzling audiences with his stunning virtuosity which can be heard on his three Sony CDs, the first a collection of transcriptions (SK62691), the second recorded at his 1998 Carnegie Hall concert (SK 60893), the last Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 3 with James Levine and the Berlin Philharmonic, recorded live in 1999 (SK 64384).  Obviously his career will be reflected in many recordings throughout the years, which cannot be said of Nelson Freire who, in spite of international recognition, has been unjustly neglected by record companies  His decades-old recording of the Schumann and Grieg concertos with Rudolf Kempe and the Munich Philharmonic has been in the catalog ever since its first issue (currently Odyssey MBK 42629). Among his few other recordings, particularly noteworthy is an Audiofon CD (72023) of a Miami recital Dec. 13, 1984 featuring Mozart, Chopin, Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Rachmanininoff and a superb Albeniz Tango in the Godowsky arrangement.  Also a Berlin Classics issue offers Liszt's two concertos and Totentanz recorded in 1994 with the Dresden Philharmonic under Michel Plasson (BC 0011302).

Now, finally, Freire has signed a contract with one of the major companies and here is his first Decca recording, a Chopin collection recorded in September 2001 and January 2002 in Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk.  The Sonata No. 3 can be a stumbling block for some pianists (Mitsuko Uchida, for example, whose Philips recording of about a dozen years ago has been withdrawn) but it surely is not for Freire.  His performance ranks up there with the best - William Kapell, Artur Rubinstein and Maurizio Pollini to name just a few.  He also tosses off the manifold difficulties of the Op. 25 Etudes with greatest ease, always with shimmering tonal beauty.  The three supplementary etudes are welcome but without them the CD, which has a rather limited playing time (58:58), could have included the Op. 10 as well.  Excellent sound from Decca.

The Sony disk offers two lesser-known Schubert sonatas, The E Major, D. 157 written in 1815, and the more imposing Sonata  in G, D. 894, completed in 1826. The sheer beauty of Volodos' playing, the wide range of dynamics and his solid musical instincts make much of these relatively subdued sonatas. CD notes suggest  the concluding work on the CD, Liszt's transcription of Schubert's "Der Müller und der Bach" from Die Schöne Müllerin, is meant to replace the finale Schubert never wrote for D.157; if that's the way they intended it, why didn't they place it right after the three completed movements?  Volodos' sound has been very well captured by the engineers in this recording made in Vienna's Sofiensaal in July 2001, a month before the famous concert hall/recording venue was destroyed by fire.

R.E.B.  (March 2002)