The Free-Reed Review
Critiques of Compact Discs, Books and Music Scores

CD Review: Daniel Barski
Free-Reed Odyssey

CD Image total time: 55:17
released: 2001
Review date: December 2001

Label: self produced

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Daniel Barski, classical accordion
Petosa model AM-1100 Concert accordion


  • (1-6) Erik Satie: Six Gnossiennes
  • (7-9) Bela Bartok: Three Hungarian Folksongs
  • (10) Peter Tchaikovsky: Dance of the (Little) Swans
  • (11) Christoph W. von Gluck: Melody (from Orpheus)
  • (12) John Dowland: Lachrimae Antiquae (Flow My Tears)
  • (13) Peter Warlock: Basse-Danse (from Capriol Suite)
  • (14) Giovani Baptista Draghi: A Ground (Variation)
  • (15) J.S. Bach: Aria (from Cantata No. 163/BWV-163)
  • (16) Antonio Vivaldi: Giga (from Sonata in A Major, RV-31)
  • (17-19) Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in D Major (RV-121)
  • (20) Antonio Vivaldi: Allegro Poco (from Cello Sonata in A Minor)
  • (21-23) Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Violin in A Minor (RV-356)

Review by James P.O'Brien:

1-6. Erik Satie: Six Gnossiennes (15:58)

  1. First Gnossienne (Lent):
    Plaintive and mystic, this composition by Satie (1890) is marvelously lucid and simple. The performer uses just the right amount of rubato to point out the melodic contour, which outlines the forbidden "tritone" several times. Satie's comments provide tongue-in- cheek directions to the performer, including "very radiant", "deep in thought", and "make demands on yourself".
  2. Second Gnossienne (Avec etonnement):
    A bit more divergent in harmony, this piece is performed "more intimately" and "without pride", per the composer's directions.
  3. Third Gnossienne (Lent):
    As with the above selections, this has a sense of improvisation and understatement which the performer conveys admirably.
  4. Fourth Gnossienne (Lent):
    A simple melody is presented over an arpeggiated harmony. Reed selection is excellent here, allowing the melody to sound clearly over its accompaniment.
  5. Fifth Gnossienne (Modere):
    A similar texture is heard in this selection, with rhythmic intricacies perfectly executed by Barski. The ostensible simplicity of Satie is conveyed without losing command of his underlying complexity. This selection has a folk-like quality which is haunting.
  6. Sixth Gnossienne (Avec conviction et avec une tristesse rigoureuse):
    The reviewer was struck by the minimalism of Satie in this selection, years before Glass or Adams were born. Barski is faithful to the style, maintaining rhythmic accuracy and melodic lucidity. This entire set is charming and refreshing, and Barski uses great control in conveying the essence of each composition in the set.

7-9. Bela Bartok: Three Hungarian Folksongs (2:48)

These three folk songs are simple in texture but free and non-metric in melodic flourishes. The artist interprets the notated melodic ornamentations tastefully and sensitively, providing nice transition between pieces while maintaining the unique quality of each song. Reed choice is appropriate to highlight the melodic line while emphasizing the inherent dissonance of the underlying harmonies.

10. Peter Tchaikovsky: Dance of the (Little) Swans(1:20)

This light and spirited dance uses a clarinet reed melodically with a thin bass sound to emphasize the basic underlying triadic harmony, providing a lucid and transparent texture instead of lush Romanticism. Syncopation is interpreted clearly and musically while inner voices provide a nice compliment to the main theme.

11. Christoph W. von Gluck: Melody (from Orpheus) (2:17)This offering from the Classical period is a study in pure simplicity: floating melody over an arpeggiated accompaniment, suitable for violin and cello. The performer attends faithfully to dynamics and handles the 2 against 3 configuration accurately and expressively. The tempo is correct but feels a need for a dash of rubato at times, particularly at cadences, an effect which is very difficult to achieve in multi-tracking.

12. John Dowland: Lachrimae Antiquae (Flow My Tears)(5:59)

This is a faithful reading of the score, including attention to details of tempo changes and articulation. The lines are clear, particularly the uppermost soprano. I found the choice of reeds a bit too rich for Renaissance music, rending this excellent transcription a bit too lugubrious for my taste and perhaps too rich for the simplicity of the score. This is personal taste but I would have liked more of a "whole" consort sound typical of the period. Perhaps moving some of the lines up an octave might have lightened the whole sonority.

13. Peter Warlock: Basse-Danse (from Capriol Suite)(1:36)

This sprightly dance evokes feelings of the ancient basse-dance where performers basically moved in symmetrical patterns on the floor rather than elevating their bodies through the air. This was a good reading but reed timbres proved rather thick. Although lucidity and clarity were achieved, reed choices with fewer overtones might have been more appropriate for the spirit of the dance. As with the simple homophonic texture of the Dowland piece, the soprano line could have been presented in sharper relief against a less imposing accompaniment.

14. Giovani Baptista Draghi: A Ground (Variation) (2:55)

This composer was not familiar to me, but a citation in Bukofzer indicated he was a Venetian composer who died c. 1700. In addition, he was extremely prolific (43 oratorios) and often sketched his works in shorthand, which seems to align with the use of a ground. In reality, this is more of a chaconne than a ground bass, since the left-hand chords of the accordion are repeated as melodic embellishments are added above. There was not much musical interest in this selection for me, which is perhaps why Draghi is not a well-known composer to this day. But Barski has not limited his repertoire to the tested and true and this is probably noble.

15. J.S. Bach: Aria (from Cantata No. 163/BWV-163)(3:02)

Although performed with accuracy, this selection was not particularly exciting or musically significant. The continuo was low and lugubrious, often detracting from the melody. Since the aria was written for bass solo, accordion reeds on each line do not work well in transcription, providing too much of the same sound to allow the listener to sort out the intricacies which coexist between solo and continue. I think it would be nice hearing a bass sing the aria with the accordion (higher reeds) as continuo.

16. Antonio Vivaldi: Giga (from Sonata in A Major,RV-31) (2:32)

The dance-like flavor of this selection (a jig) is presented much like it would be with a baroque chamber ensemble. The performer has chosen an oboe-like reed for the melody, with blander accompaniment providing the continuo. The ornaments are handled musically and there is an excellent flow throughout the entire movement, particularly in the attention to terraced dynamics.

17-19. Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in D Major(RV-121) (5:10)

This is an excellent transcription of the concerto. In three movements (Allegro molto, Adagio and Allegro), the contrast between movements is typical of Baroque practice, including change of meter as well as tempo. Barski handles the polyphony, particularly in the opening movement, as well as the startling changes of harmony effectively through good voicing and dynamics. His attention to the terraced dynamics is also noteworthy and he handles the rampant hemiola in the first movement convincingly. This is a concerto with energy and dynamism and Barski uses the accordion most adequately in conveying these overall qualities.

20. Antonio Vivaldi: Allegro Poco (from Cello Sonata in A Minor) (2:55)

Vivaldi anticipates the Classic period in this homophonic binary dance marked Allegro poco. I actually felt is was mucho more than poco, which rendered the entire movement a bit jazzier than Vivaldi might have intended because of the pervasive syncopation. Nonetheless, Barski is faithful to the melodic demands, including incredibly crisp execution of the ornaments. His voicing certainly evoked a cello feeling.

21-23. Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for Violin in A Minor(RV-356) (8:43)

Many of the remarks in the above concerto (17-19) would apply here, except it is much more interesting musically. T he three movements (Allegro, Largo (non troppo) cantabile, Presto) provide excellent contrast. Barski is faithful to the indicated phrasing and articulations. This is a fine concerto and a fine reading of it as well.

Summary (Total time: 55:17)

This CD is a must for any serious accordionist who is interested in the chamber posibilities of the instrument. Although Barski has multi-tracked this CD, the arrangements are excellent for chamber accordionists (2-4) (although probably not for a large group) in virtual performance. The artist has been incredibly true to the composers' directions and the end result is a musical and varied group of compositions. Bravo. It was a delight to hear. Daniel Barski is a first-class musician and his transcriptions demonstrate that the accordion is a viable instrument for hearing these compositions.

Additional Review by Henry Doktorski:

This is a pleasant easy-listening album of less-known classical pieces ranging in stylistic period from John Dowland (1563-1623) to Bela Bartok (1881-1945). It goes without saying that the music by such distinguished composers is superb. But what about the arrangements transcribed for accordion?

Happily, Barski played the polyphonic pieces note for note as the composers wrote, as he utilized the multi-track recorder in his home studio. (The homophonic pieces such as the Satie, Bartok, etc. he played in real time with the stradella left-hand system.)

Daniel Barski's relationship with the classical accordion has been a type of odyssey. He wrote:

As a young student with a growing interest in classical music, I was afforded the opportunity to meet an accomplished conductor. During the course of the conversation I proudly announced that I played the accordion, and immediately sensed his chagrin. Naively, I asked him what he thought of the instrument. He replied, "It is a mere toy . . ." Not long afterward, I gave it up, and for thirty years neither owned nor played one. Then, a few years ago, almost by accident, I rediscovered it, and have since come to realize that the old master was right. The accordion is a toy. But where he seems to have erred, however, was in implying that other musical instruments are not.

It is no coincidence that the word play is applicable to the activities of children, athletes, actors, and musicians. Perhaps, when one begins to regard the performance of a serious work as performing serious work, then the spontaneity and joy of play, so essential to the process of creativity, is diminished. It is easy to see then how one might come to regard instruments frequently associated with "light" music as frivolous, and the phrase, "classical accordion", as an oxymoron.

Barski's Free-Reed Odyssey —his first commercial CD—is anything but frivolous. It is a serious album, but it is also pleasant to listen to: the pieces he programs do not demand much concentration from the listener to enjoy them. Not like a late Beethoven string quartet, for instance.

I cannot find anything to fault with Barski's technique, although the pieces he chose do not demand great technical virtuosity on the part of the performer. Some of the pieces could have been played at a quicker tempo; the Vivaldi Giga seemed a bit ponderous to me.

One thing I certainly WAS impressed by was Barski's ability to coordinate all the parts to sound as if they were played at one time by one ensemble of individual accordions. The ensemble is excellent. This is no mean feat, as individual musicians can see each other and take visual cues for cutoffs, etc. Barski must have spent quite a bit of time in the studio perfecting his sound-on-sound technique. I should mention that some of the Vivaldi & Bach pieces sound as if a bass accordion is playing. Barski assured me that it was only the left-hand of his Petosa accordion. I was impressed. Very deep sound.

If I must have a criticism, it would be that 1. Barski was very conservative in his choice of music (I would have liked more flashy pieces to interrupt the somber mood) and 2. although his playing was very precise and articulate, I didn't detect much expression or f eeling. Dowland's Lachrimae Antiquae (Flow My Tears) didn't cause any tears to flow from my eyes as Barski seemed to treat the accordion more like an organ and less like a violin. Of course there is nothing wrong with that as the accordion is a wind instrument related to the organ, but its dynamic levels have much greater range than one can detect on this CD.

All in all a beautiful CD, which I am pleased to tell you about.

Performer's Rebuttal:

From: "Barski, Dan"
Subject: Review...
Date: Mon, 3 Dec 2001

Dear Henry,

Thank you also for taking the time to review the recording, and for the positive comments you made regarding it. My only question is this: Did you really mean to imply in your last statement that the entire recording lacks expression and feeling? If so, then, in my mind at least, the recording is worthless! Who would be interested in listening to a recording exemplifying technique alone devoid of emotional content? If this is truly what you feel about my renditions, then I must conclude that I have utterly failed in my efforts, not only as a recordist, but as a musician. For me, the essence of music is the expression of feeling.

For this reason, I devoted over half of the recording specifically to emotionally expressive renditions, versus a flashy display of technique, not only in the type of selections I have chosen, but, I had hoped, in my interpretation of them. Can you really listen to Satie's "Gnossiennes", Bartok's "Folksongs", Gluck's "Melody" and Draghi's "Ground" without feeling some of the emotional depth I felt while playing them? Admittedly there is less profundity in the larger ensemble works, particularly by Vivaldi, but might this not be expected in light of the nature of these orchestral works? If Dowland's piece did not rise to your expectations, I can appreciate that, but might you qualify your statement a little in this regard? What starts out as an afterthought in an otherwise positive review, ends up dealing a death-blow to the entire album in the eyes of the reader...

Actually, I think that your statement pertaining to expression and feeling was more a hastily chosen set of words than a true expression of your own feeling. You concluded with, "All in all a beautiful CD...". I assume you were referring to the music and not the photo of me. If so, how is it possible for music to be beautiful without expression or feeling? Notwithstanding this apparent contradiction, I fully recognize that listening to music is in good measure a subjective experience. What moves one person to tears may simply bore another. In this sense, an opinion is as much a statement about the listener's taste as it is about the music itself, and cannot, therefore be objectively wrong - that is, if the opinion is stated accurately.

But what is one to conclude in reading your statement? I personally would not recommend a recording of classical music lacking "much expression or feeling", just as I would not recommend a restaurant whose food was "delicious, but lacking in flavor". For this reason, I was hoping you might consider amending the statement in question for purposes of clarification and consistency, making this and my previous reply superfluous.

Sincerely yours,


Reviewer's Reply:

Dear Dan,

Many thanks for sharing your thoughts. Please do not interpret my words to mean that something can be only black or white, but not gray. Of course there is beauty in your CD. There is also beauty in Muzak, but that doesn't mean everybody has to want to listen to it.

I've listened to nearly 300 CDs since beginning The Classical Free-Reed, Inc. website. Some I thought were world-class, others I thought were not. But what is my opinion? It is just my opinion.

Just because one reviewer may not gush with excitement about your first CD, it's not the end of the world. Much greater performers than you and me have been trashed by music critics preaching from much greater publications with readership in the millions and still the performers have gone on to be recognized by the world. You can't please everybody all of the time and neither can I. Just be true to yourself and happy in the knowledge that you have done your very best. I think many people will enjoy your music.

Coincidentally, I met a man yesterday who works at the Pittsburgh airport. He came to visit me as his wife plays accordion and he wanted to purchase my Gershwin Rhapsody In Blue CD which he said he frequently hears played over the airport sound system. During his visit he presented me with, amazingly enough, a gift of two of your earlier noncommercial CDs: Free-Reed Reveries and Akkordeon Renaissance. Obviously he enjoyed the CDs so much that he wanted to share them with me and turn me onto your music.

I'm sure that many others will also come to appreciate your recordings.



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