Artist Hyperion Records

Simon Barere (piano)

Simon Barere was born into an impoverished Jewish family on 1st September 1896 in Odessa, the eleventh of thirteen children. The only glimmer of any musical inclination within the family had been when two of his older brothers had taught themselves enough of music’s rudiments to enable them to eke out a living as cafe and restaurant musicians. It was they who initially guided their brother’s first keyboard explorations though most of the boy’s elementary instruction was provided gratis by an interested neighbour. The full magnitude of what was obviously an innate and extraordinary keyboard facility only became apparent when Barere’s father died unexpectedly and prematurely and the boy began to support the family by playing in silent movie cinemas, restaurants and the like.

Barere was readily accepted for serious studies at the Odessa Imperial Music Academy, a few years behind another local lad who ‘made good’, Benno Moiseiwitsch. When he was sixteen, however, Barere’s mother died and, respecting her wishes that he should seek the best possible musical training, he placed his two younger sisters in the care of close friends, together with as large a sum of money for their upkeep as he could muster, and set out on his own for St Petersburg. Legend has it that when he arrived at the city’s Imperial Conservatory, unannounced and unheralded late one wet November evening, he was confronted by a stout, somewhat florid gentleman who demanded to know exactly what he thought he was up to. On completing his explanations, the interrogator demanded that he should play something. Barere’s party pieces, Liszt’s Rivoletto paraphrase and Chopin’s Etude in C sharp minor, had an alarming effect. The stout gentleman—Glazunov, of course—hauled the boy off to the piano department and insisted there and then that the impromptu recital should be repeated, this time for the benefit of Annette Essipova and Isabella Vengerova, two of the Conservatory’s fiercely formidable and highly competitive piano professors. The legend concludes by suggesting that the two ladies almost came to blows as they sought possession of the young phenomenon.

Not for the first time, Glazunov, the Conservatory’s enlightened Director, sidestepped the many regulations that were intended to prevent Jews from gaining entrance. Indeed, throughout his years at St Petersburg, Barere enjoyed the benefit of Glazunov’s unstinting consideration and thoughtfulness. From the very outset he realised that Barere’s art was practically fully formed and so the boy was spared the Conservatory’s rigorous regime of theory and counterpoint, musical history and analysis. Furthermore, Glazunov ensured that Barere remained at the Conservatory for seven years, far longer than the norm, so protecting him from compulsory Army conscription and potential slaughter. Thus Barere graduated in 1919, after peace had been restored, inevitably taking with him the prestigious Rubinstein Prize. Some measure of Glazunov’s estimation of Barere’s gifts can be discerned from the composer’s telling pronouncement, ‘Barere is Franz Liszt in the one hand and Anton Rubinstein in the other’.

For his day-to-day tuition at the Conservatory Barere was assigned to Essipova. One of the most dazzling yet graceful pianists of her era, she, perhaps more magically than any other pianist of her time, combined a remarkable technical facility with a deeply poetic manner of expression. It was undoubtedly while under her influence that Barere developed his extraordinary gift to dispense supercharged virtuosity with the absolute minimum of effort. When Essipova’s death brought the partnership to an end in 1914 Barere completed his studies with Felix Blumenfeld, a versatile pianist who also cut an influential dash during the early years of Soviet music as conductor, composer and piano pedagogue. (Among Blumenfeld’s other pupils can be counted his nephew Heinrich Neuhaus, Vladimir Horowitz, Maria Grinberg and Alexander Gauk.) Blumenfeld, a most discerning musician, was undoubtedly instrumental in imposing upon Barere a style of playing that was both sensual and lyric, one that emanated from a technique of the utmost refinement and which lay particular stress upon clarity of finger work and a wide tonal palette.

On leaving St Petersburg Barere began a career as a travelling virtuoso while holding the post of Professor of Piano at Kiev Conservatory. In the following year (1920) he married a fellow St Petersburg pupil, Helen Vlashek. Predictable early success was soon soured by a protracted period of reversals, the most frustrating of which was a ban on his touring outside the Soviet Union. It was not until 1928, when the Soviet government sent him as a cultural ambassador to the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, that Barere had the opportunity to make Riga his base, from where he began the tortuous process of securing the release of his wife and young son, Boris. Eventually the family were reunited and in 1932 they moved to Berlin. Instantaneous triumph was again followed by disaster as Hitler’s persecution of the Jews intensified. Life was soon little more than survival as Barere was forced to play on vaudeville stages under an assumed name. In desperation the family fled to Sweden.

The first substantial success of Barere’s life in Europe came in January 1934 when his British debut as the Aeolian Hall created such a stir that he was immediately whisked into EMI’s recording studio. In the same year Barere made his British concerto début—the Tchaikovsky First Concerto at the Queen’s Hall, London conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham—and undertook an extensive tour of the British Isles. Gradually more and more invitations began to arrive including one from the Baldwin Piano Company which took Barere to America. The acclaim which greeted him after his Carnegie Hall debut on 9th November 1936 convinced him that his destiny lay in the New World.

If the United States’s involvement in the Second World War meant that the prevailing artistic conditions of the early- 1940s were less than ideal, Barere had at least established a firm foothold. The late- 1940s were to be his finest years. Concerts and recitals grew increasingly numerous—he toured Australia, New Zealand and South America—and his Carnegie Hall appearances were regarded by the cognoscenti arid critics alike as ‘events’. His final Carnegie Hall appearance was on the 2nd April 1951 when he was soloist in an all-Scandinavian concert given by the Philadelphia Orchestra conducted by Eugene Ormandy. As he played his first ever performance of the Grieg Concerto Simon Barere collapsed at the keyboard, the victim of a cerebral haemorrhage.

That there remains any evidence of Barere’s playing in concert and recital during his prime is due entirely to his son Boris who sporadically recorded his father’s performances, ‘just for the fun of it’, whenever he was in town and had the necessary funds. The recordings were made in a small studio, situated a few floors above the main stage, on just two 78rpm turntables. There was no visual contact with the stage: small wonder that parts of some works were missed.

Complete works available for download

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH (1685-1750)
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903
MILI BALAKIREV (1837-1910)
Islamey 'Oriental fantasie', Op 18
Islamey 'Oriental fantasie', Op 18
Islamey 'Oriental fantasie', Op 18
LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op 110
Piano Sonata in E minor, Op 90
FRANZ BEHR (1837-1898)
Polka de W R
Polka de W R
FELIX BLUMENFELD (1863-1931)
Étude pour la main gauche seule, Op 36
Étude pour la main gauche seule, Op 36
FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op 22
Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23
Fantasy in F minor, Op 49
Impromptu No 1 in A flat major, Op 29
Impromptu No 1 in A flat major, Op 29
Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op 59 No 3
Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op 59 No 3
Nocturne in D flat major, Op 27 No 2
Scherzo No 3 in C sharp minor, Op 39
Scherzo No 3 in C sharp minor, Op 39
Scherzo No 3 in C sharp minor, Op 39
Waltz in A flat major, Op 42
Waltz in A flat major, Op 42
Waltz in A flat major, Op 42
Waltz in A flat major, Op 42
FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major, S124with New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, David Broekman (conductor)
Piano Sonata in B minor, S178
Rapsodie espagnole, S254
Réminiscences de "Don Juan" de Mozart – Grande fantaisie, S418
Réminiscences de "Don Juan" de Mozart – Grande fantaisie, S418
Valse de l'opéra Faust de Ch. Gounod, S407
Valse oubliée No 1, S215/1
Zwei Konzertetüden, S145
SERGEI RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18with Brico Symphony Orchestra, Antonia Brico (conductor)
DOMENICO SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in A major, Kk113
ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval, Op 9
Toccata in C major, Op 7
Toccata in C major, Op 7
Toccata in C major, Op 7

Alphabetical listing of all musical works

Allegro  
Allegro con fuoco  
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op 22 (Chopin)
Années de pèlerinage, deuxième année – Italie, S161 (Liszt)
Après une lecture du Dante 'Fantasia quasi Sonata'  
Arlequin: Vivo  
ASCH–SCHA (Lettres dansantes): Presto  
Aufschwung  
Ave Maria  
Aveu: Passionato  
Ballade No 1 in G minor, Op 23 (Chopin)
Ballade No 4 in F minor, Op 52 (Chopin)
Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude  
Cantique d'amour  
Canzonetta del Salvator Rosa  
Carnaval, Op 9 (Schumann)
Chiarina: Passionato  
Chopin: Agitato  
Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D minor, BWV903 (Bach)
Coquette: Vivo  
Des Abends  
Douze études, Op 8 (Scriabin)
Ende vom Lied  
Estrella: Con affetto  
Étude  
Étude pour la main gauche seule, Op 36 (Blumenfeld)
Études, Op 10 (Chopin)
Eusebius: Adagio  
Fabel  
Fantasiestücke, Op 12 (Schumann)
Fantasy in F minor, Op 49 (Chopin)
Florestan: Passionato  
Funérailles  
Gigue  
Gnomenreigen  
Grande Polonaise  
Grillen  
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, S173 (Liszt)
Hungarian Rhapsodies, S244 (Liszt)
Hymne de l'Enfant à son réveil  
Il lamento  
Il penseroso  
Impromptu No 1 in A flat major, Op 29 (Chopin)
In der Nacht  
Interview
Invocation  
Islamey 'Oriental fantasie', Op 18 (Balakirev)
La leggierezza  
Lento ma non troppo  
Marche des Davidsbündler contre les Philistins: Non allegro  
Mazurka in F sharp minor, Op 59 No 3 (Chopin)
Miserere d'après Palestrina  
Night: Allegretto quasi andantino  
Nocturne in D flat major, Op 27 No 2 (Chopin)
Paganini (Intermezzo): Presto  
Pantalon et Colombine: Presto  
Papillons: Prestissimo  
Pastorale  
Pater noster  
Pause: Vivo  
Pensée des morts  
Piano Concerto No 1 in E flat major, S124 (Liszt)
Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op 18 (Rachmaninov)
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op 110 (Beethoven)
Piano Sonata in B minor, S178 (Liszt)
Piano Sonata in E minor, Op 90 (Beethoven)
Piano Sonata No 1 in C major, J138 Op 24 (Weber)
Pierrot: Moderato  
Polka de W R (Behr/Rachmaninov)
Préambule: Quasi maestoso  
Prélude  
Preludes, Op 23 (Rachmaninov)
Preludes, Op 32 (Rachmaninov)
Presto  
Promenade: Comodo  
Rapsodie espagnole, S254 (Liszt)
Rapsodie hongroise I  
Rapsodie hongroise II  
Rapsodie hongroise III  
Rapsodie hongroise IV  
Rapsodie hongroise IX 'Le carnaval de Pest'  
Rapsodie hongroise V 'Héroïde-élégiaque'  
Rapsodie hongroise VI  
Rapsodie hongroise VII  
Rapsodie hongroise VIII  
Rapsodie hongroise X  
Rapsodie hongroise XI  
Rapsodie hongroise XII  
Rapsodie hongroise XIII  
Rapsodie hongroise XIV  
Rapsodie hongroise XIX d'après les "Csárdás nobles" de K[ornél] Ábrányi [sr]  
Rapsodie hongroise XV 'Rákóczi-Marsch'  
Reconnaissance: Animato  
Réminiscences de "Don Juan" de Mozart – Grande fantaisie, S418 (Liszt/Mozart)
Renaissance (Godowsky)
Réplique: L'istesso tempo  
Réplique: L'istesso tempo – Sphinxes  
Scherzo No 3 in C sharp minor, Op 39 (Chopin)
Sonata in A major, Kk113 (Scarlatti)
Sonetto 104 del Petrarca  
Sonetto 123 del Petrarca  
Sonetto 47 del Petrarca  
Sphinxes  
Sposalizio  
Tambourin  
Three Études, Op 31 (Glazunov)
Toccata in C major, Op 7 (Schumann)
Traumes Wirren  
Trois Études de concert – Trois caprices poétiques, S144 (Liszt)
Trois morceaux, Op 2 (Scriabin)
Un sospiro  
Un sospiro, two further cadenzas  
Un sospiro, with cadenza and revised coda  
Valse allemande: Molto vivace  
Valse de l'opéra Faust de Ch. Gounod, S407 (Liszt/Gounod)
Valse noble: Un poco maestoso  
Valse oubliée No 1, S215/1 (Liszt)
Vivace  
Waldesrauschen  
Waltz in A flat major, Op 42 (Chopin)
Warum?  
Zwei Konzertetüden, S145 (Liszt)