Arrau with Szell - Live from Carnegie Hall
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C major Op.15 (1797) [36:12]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor Op.21 (1829) [31:14]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra AV85 (1885-86) [18:11]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Konzertstück in F minor Op.79 J282 (1821) [16:00]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Concerto No.2 in A major S125 (1839 rev 1849-61) [20:14]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra/George Szell
rec. 11 March 1945 (Strauss and Weber), 11 November 1945 (Beethoven), 15 December 1946 (Liszt) and 9 January 1955 (Chopin)
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA-6037 [67:26 + 54:25]
Claudio Arrau and George Szell never made a studio recording together, but sufficient examples exist of their collaboration to ensure that this two CD release from WHRA will enjoy rich interest. The two men may seem improbable collaborators - but was Clifford Curzon a more improbable soloist for Szell than Arrau? Probably not. Thus we have three concertos and two concertante works taped live at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra in the years between 1945 and 1955, though all but the Chopin date from 1945-46.
Szell provides magnanimously powerful orchestral support in the Beethoven C major concerto. He is dynamic, fluent, fleet and what Jed Distler characterises in his useful notes as ‘opera-buffa’ in orientation. Certainly the NYPSO’s bass line is energetically propelled and the tuttis are charged. Arrau drives into the longest of the three first-movement cadenzas Beethoven left, becoming ever more agitated and dynamic. The pianist evinces warmly moulded responses in the slow movement, whilst Szell’s walking pace, rather Toscaninian, support ensures ensemble never slackens. Szell is not entirely exempt from a touch of the bandmaster here. He does ensure that there are strong accents in the finale, bringing out some ‘Magic Flute’ wind writing; élan meanwhile characterises Arrau’s contribution.
The Chopin Concerto is a strong and determined affair. Ideally one needs on the rostrum a conductor who elucidates the orchestral fabric and brings it forcefully but sensitively to life. Szell does all this. We find Arrau in a different sort of mood from his rather more sedate earthbound studio recordings of Chopin. He was never a rococo, or decorative Chopin player - a type that would have hardly appealed to Szell - instead showing in his full chording, and sometimes brusque bluntness, a very direct approach indeed. Some may need a more gracious sense of refinement and touch, whilst others will greatly enjoy this more rugged take.
Szell offers lean and mean support in the Liszt A major Concerto. Arrau here is typically alert and wide-ranging in his tonal responses, not least in his sculpted bass lines, which are typically galvanizing. Keywords here are resilience, technical control, and dramatic flair. Strauss’s Burleske is not heard in as good a recording; the piano is offset in the balance. And it’s a fast and furious, no-prisoners performance, potent if somewhat misapplied. Weber’s Konzertstück in F minor is again very spirited and fast. It replaced in the programme that day Fauré’s Ballade which Arrau had played on two separate occasions. This is a shame as no Arrau performance of a Fauré piece has survived. His Weber is perfectly fine, notably the staccati and legato phrasing, though again it may be too gimlet-eyed for some.
Restoration is by Lani Spahr, who’s done a typically fine job. Admirable for the opportunity to hear the collaborative novelty of these two great musicians in live performances.
Jonathan Woolf
Admirable for the opportunity to hear the collaborative novelty of two great musicians in live performances.