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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 [35:45]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, Op. 73 Emperor* [39:08]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch/*Pierre Monteux
rec. 18 August 1961; *23 July 1960, Tanglewood

Claudio Arrau (1903–1991) was an honoured guest in Boston – and in the Boston Symphony’s summer home at Tanglewood. This disc presents two Tanglewood performances from the early 1960s which, it appears, have not been issued before. The recording of the Fourth concerto is in stereo while its companion is in perfectly acceptable mono. The transfers were made in 2012 by Gene Gaudette. The performance of the ‘Emperor’ is not to be confused with one from 1957 in which Arrau and Munch took part and which has previously been issued in a WHRA box (review).
The notes are very useful and informative though, perhaps, an interest should be declared in that they are by my MusicWeb International colleague, Jonathan Woolf. In his essay he suggests that, for Arrau, the ideal conductor of the Fourth concerto would offer a collaboration that was “measured, spiritually probing … almost intuitively intellectual and expressive.” Such a description might not completely fit the often-volatile Charles Munch but here the two great musicians seem to have forged a most effective partnership. I found a great deal to admire in the first movement. Arrau may not be quite as Olympian as, say, Gilels but he’s an extremely thoughtful interpreter of one of Beethoven’s most philosophical concerto movements. It’s not a note-perfect account – there is a tiny slip of the fingers at 9:07 and a more serious one in the chords at 10:37 – but any such small slips can and should be overlooked; what matters is that the spirit of the music is so impressively conveyed. Munch’s conducting is excellent, as is the playing of the BSO. Arrau gives a magisterial account of the cadenza.
In the elevated discourse of the slow movement we find Arrau cool and calm and there’s good depth in the tone of the Boston strings. Both Arrau and Munch are disciplined in their approach to the finale yet there is still excellent energy in the music making. Jonathan Woolf says of Arrau that in this movement “digital clarity and phrasal shaping are enviably assured.” I concur.
For the ‘Emperor’ we find Arrau collaborating with a legendary concerto accompanist in the shape of Pierre Monteux. After the opening flourish Le Maitre drives the orchestral tutti along splendidly. When Arrau rejoins the fray his playing is powerful and impressive and at times real thrust is imparted to the music both from the keyboard and from the podium. That’s not to say that the lyrical side of the movement is short changed; that’s far from being the case. At the reprise of the opening flourish (12:32) Arrau very briefly comes off the rails but it’s a momentary slip and his authoritative reading is soon fully back on track.
I could sum up the slow movement in one word: patrician. Here we have two vastly experienced musicians, both of whom have a deep understanding of the music and a determination to put their skills completely at the service of the music. Jonathan Woolf may be correct in saying that Arrau is “less seraphic” in this movement by comparison with his studio recordings but he suggests that the great pianist was even more expressive in this concert account. There’s certainly no want of expression here and it’s a highly satisfying reading. The finale is ebullient and surging. I like the cheerful, lilting gait that Monteux and Arrau impart to the music. Throughout the concerto Monteux obtains an excellent response from the Boston Symphony.
I found the sound of the piano slightly shallow in the Fourth concerto – for example around 3:55 in the first movement – but this is by no means an impediment to enjoyment. The sound for the Fifth concerto is fuller and the piano seemed more prominent to me. Both recordings are perfectly satisfactory and Gene Gaudette has done a good job in transferring them. There are several studio recordings of both concertos by Arrau but notwithstanding that this disc is an impressive and important addition to his discography.
John Quinn