I'm playing Chopin's second Ballade along with Beethoven's Pastoral Sonata (Op. 28) and have listened to a recording of each every day for the last week. The Ballade is the most technically difficult piece that I have ever played. I can best describe it in one word- schizophrenic. It begins in F major with a very flowing melody and continues in this adagio for a number of phrases. After a pianissimo, arpeggiated F chord, the piece break into a frantic, presto section that uses a solid 6 octaves of the keyboard. Presto continues for a little over two pages before transitioning easily back into the flowing melody from the beginning. The melody does a little fake out before breaking into two lines that push the tempo but then returns immediately to the adagio. This adagio section repeats the first, in two different keys and then retransitions into the presto section once again. The presto this time modulates into a minor and moves directly into the coda. The coda is very flashy and has 5 different motives that move through it before ending on a... FRENCH +6 chord (ab, f, and d#) this resolves to a i6/4 V i to end the piece in a minor.
While we were discussing sonata form I had a good time trying to analyze the sonata from memory. This sonata is nicknamed "Pastoral" for a good reason. It paints a very moving line and the listener can very well hear the nature that is expressed throughout the piece. The exposition begins in D major (there is no introduction) There are two themes before moving into the development, which is in G major. The first theme is developed and then retransitions into D major through a pattern played first in B major, then in B minor. a vii07 chord leads to the recapitulation. There is also a two line coda that meanders around in the first theme in D major.
These two pieces are each challenging in their own way and the recordings that I listened to are all amazing. Listening to different recordings of these pieces always gives me many different ideas about how to perform them. My favorite recording of the Chopin ballade was played by Esther Park (Van Cliburn winner in, I believe 2004?). The best recording of the Beethoven that I found was on Naxos- played by Anton Kuerti.