Hearing the older Freire's recent recordings with Decca sent me scurrying to hear his earlier CDs, and most especially his Chopin. The Brazilian pianist has shown a lifelong devotion to Chopin's music. He performs it very differently from his great predecessors, whether they are Rachmaninov, Cortot, Horowitz, or Rubinstein. All imposed a potent personal style on the scores, although Rubinstein was the most respectful and Horowitz the most intrusive. Freire aims to disappear into the music, letting us recognize him almost as an absence, so discreet are is stylistic gestures. Yet his Nocturnes are more compelling than almost any other, because the intimacy of these sophisticated night time reveries puts the listener in a reflective mood -- a mood perfectly attuned to Freire's unassuming poetry. This CD includes ten selected Nocturnes, arranged as a program rather than in chronological order. It is filled out with the F minor Fantasie.
Both here, in his first version (released in 1975) and in the recent complete set made for the Chopin bicentennial, we hear the same artist. It's quite remarkable that a pianist just past thirty should sound so seasoned and one just past 65 should sound so spontaneous. There really is little to choose between them, except on two grounds. I find the second recording more varied from one Nocturne to the next. Chopin never intended for these works to be played as a set, and except for the Waltzes, there's no harder group to make sound like individuals, thanks to the prevailing quiet mood. Freire's growth as an artist brings out small but telling distinctions. Second, Decca's piano sound for the second set is exemplary -- full and warm where the piano here sounds a little pingy i the top register and recessive in the bass.
Yet for all that, this is an inspiring and often very moving traversal of the Nocturnes, one to listen to while pondering the quiet sweetness and melancholy of existence. Such natural playing is hard won and all the more treasurable for that.