I stumbled upon this CD quite by accident. I love Kristof Barati's playing and this release instantly caught my eye.
Setting aside the rather odd cover and distinctly second-rate origins (Saphir productions?), this is a disheartening - and wildly overpriced - release. It is bare-bones in the extreme. The disc is an on-demand CD-R, there is no printed booklet, just an empty paper insert with a track listing of sorts - and even that is wrong. The front cover at least gets the composers right. The track listing does not. It ascribes the Ravel selections to Francoise Choveaux for some very odd reason. But rest assured it is indeed the Ravel Sonata #2 in G. The release date, according to Amazon, is 2011 - but Saphir productions doesn't bother with providing any recording/performance dates or location details.
But, let's back up a step. Shockingly, the CD arrived in a jewel case which had been hermetically sealed, fused shut. Literally. I had to break it apart with a hammer and chisel. Literally. I have collected over 8,000 CDs and never, ever have I encountered such a thing. Once I managed to get the product out (not without tearing the paper insert and cutting up my fingers, by the way), mercifully the CD-R plays just fine.
At this point, I wasn't expecting much from the recording itself (and actually expected it to not play at all). But much to my surprise, the playing and sound are sensational! The Ravel alone is worth all the trouble. It is a fabulous performance, and is actually better than Barati's 2014 remake of it, with a different pianist, for Brilliant Classics (on a CD entitled French Violin Sonatas). This reading has all the characteristics I love in Barati's playing. He displays the effortless ease of Heifetz, with the fabulous technique and un-fussy musicianship of Szeryng, along with the richly singing lines of Perlman. He really is an amazing player, and he puts his heart and soul into this Ravel. It is more spontaneous, energetic, musically involving and better recorded than the aforementioned Brilliant remake.
The Bartok Sonata for solo violin also comes off well, perfectly executed, with just the right amount of Bartokian spikiness and musical insight.
The final work, for solo piano, was one I initially thought was rather out of place here. But in the end, I enjoyed it immensely. I am familiar with several orchestral works by English composer York Bowen (all on Chandos), but this Piano Sonata was new to me. And what an immensely imaginative and engaging work it is, brilliantly played here by pianist Severin Von Eckardstein.
Best of all, even in the sometimes unreliable CD-R format, the recorded sound throughout is excellent. The instrumentalists are naturally placed within a warm acoustic, it is clean and clear, and showcases Barati's rich, gorgeous, wooden sound. It also captures a realistic and natural piano sound, something which most major labels inexplicably have consistent trouble accomplishing.
In sum, if Amazon would cut the price of this release in half, and ensure it is enclosed in a normal jewel case that one can actually get into, this disc would be very highly recommended without reservation. As it stands, though, it is astonishingly overpriced, given its mediocre production values. But anyone who is a fan of Kristof Barati, as am I, do not miss it. The Ravel, in particular, is absolutely thrilling.
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