The Second Ballade is dedicated to Schumann and its violently opposed first and second subjects could hardly have been excelled by that master of vivid contrasts. The opening quaver crotchet rhythm establishes the basic compound duple time, but the music’s deceptively placid progress is enlivened by syncopation and several surprise turns, a remarkable instance of simplicity without monotony. The subsequent tornado (sufficiently sudden to encourage all lovers of programme music) subsides, and a series of left-hand scales gradually calms the fury of this wintry blast. The principal subject returns and after a brooding development and a passage of great improvisatory daring the second subject’s violence is once more unleashed. Insistent tremolandi and trills announce a coda whose percussive force looks ahead towards the twentieth century and to the caustic brilliance of Prokofiev. Chopin, however, reserves his masterstroke for the final bars where the opening theme reappears plaintif and resigned in A minor, its original and, in retrospect, naive optimism defeated.
from notes by Bryce Morrison © 2004