The Ballade in G minor, OP.23 is the first of Chopin’s four ballades. It was composed in 1835-36 during the composer’s early days in Paris. Chopin cited the poet Adam Mickiewicz as an influence for his ballades.
The music is built from two main themes, the first being introduced in bar 7 after the short introduction, and the second in bar 68. The whole piece is in a narrative form: A-B-C-B-A, and the keys of the sections are V (intro)-i (A section mm.9-67)-VI (B section mm.68-93)-VI (C section mm.138-165)-VI (B section mm.166-194)-i (A section mm.195-208), and Coda in G minor.
The Moderato (mm.9-208) is framed on both sides by the Largo introduction (mm.1-8) and the Presto con fuoco coda (mm.209-64). In the introduction, Chopin articulated by brief rests, as if the speaker were short of breath or, still turning in his mind the subject of the about to open the story. The coda is more open than the introduction, and this is a discourse in search of an aim. Once the aim is reached, it is repeatedly stressed. After the Presto absolutely nothing remains to be said.
A ballade is a narrative poem, usually set to music, and it often is a story told in song.
The performance is an oral culture, and it is like to storytelling or folksinging. In a narrative model the performer is like a storyteller, and their works are for certain emotional effects and aesthetic. Different performer presents different versions of a single work. It is largely defined by the performer’s interpretation and listener’s reception.
In a musical performance the participants include the performer as well as the listener.
Every performer tries to communicate with composers, and also communicate with listener though the music. In fact, performance is defined as a dynamic engagement with the score. "A poetic text taken along is open to a wide range of possible interpretations, to set the text to music is to narrow the range, to perform the composed setting is to narrow the range still further." (By Kramer) So basically, it is like this shape:
Poetic text—Score—Performance (Many possible interpretations—single interpretation)
The score is a dynamic reaction to the text, and performance is a dynamic reaction to the score.
There are three recordings in Course library, and each one has different interpretation, but there are not my favorite recording.
First one is very swing fast playing. Since I discussed above that pianist needs to communicate with listener, me, as a listener, it is difficult to understand what is going on in the piece. It sounds the pianist hurry up to finish playing it and then do something else. It is not telling a story to public.
In the second recording, the pianist didn’t hurry up. His playing technique is not very good. He made every phrase rubato, it is unnecessary. Chopin is a Romantic composer, his music should be played romantically, but pianist is also a storyteller, if you did too much expressive, you just play for yourself, not for other listeners. We should remember that pianist needs listener’s reception.
The third recording is the best performance comparing with other two. The pianist played romanticlly and dramaticly. My personal thought for this pianist is he or she is a little wild playing for Chopin's forte.
There are two pianists’ interpretations which are my favorite: Rubinstein and Zimerman. Both are they as storyteller, and through their performance, I can hear they are just "telling" a real story to public.