Barraque Henck/ECM

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

Composed between 1950 and 1952, Jean Barraqué’s Piano Sonata might be regarded as the serialist manifesto that wasn’t. Its uncompromising structural parameters and bleak sound world have alternately attracted and baffled new music listeners and pianists alike since Yvonne Loriod first recorded the piece in the late 1950s. The work’s formidable challenges, however, seem to be attracting the curiosity of today’s contemporary piano lions in concert and on disc. Herbert Henck’s 1999 ECM recording finally gains domestic release after being available in Europe for more than a year. Textually speaking, Henck is the work’s most fastidious exponent on disc. After much investigation, the pianist was able to examine Barraqué’s manuscript alongside the printed version. The process yielded numerous note corrections, revamped dynamics, and phrasal adjustments. Henck’s fluid virtuosity conveys a paradoxical impression of relaxation and intensity, bringing unprecedented clarity and profile to the music’s multi-tiered linear strands. His feeling for tone color and hair-trigger response to Barraqué’s sometimes intractable rhythmic configurations outclass Stefan Litwin’s dry and dutiful effort on CPO. Some listeners might prefer Psi-Hsien Chien’s blunter, diamond-edged delivery (Telos), along with a generous filler in the form of the Boulez Third Sonata, whereas Henck offers the Barraqué alone. No question, though, that Henck’s achievement stands out among his many valuable new music piano recordings. A seminal release.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

JEAN BARRAQUÉ - Piano Sonata

  • Herbert Henck (piano)
  • ECM - 453 914-2
  • CD

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