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Claudio Arrau - Rarities 1929-1951
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Track-list at end of review
WARNER ERATO 4639427 [3 CDs: 69:07 + 69:41 + 64:03]

It is amazing to think that Claudio Arrau (1903-91) had a concert career that spanned eight decades, and a recording career that spanned six. His formidable discography begins with acoustic recordings and ends in the digital era. A hallmark of his playing is the spirituality and philosophical insight that he brought to bear. Perhaps it is significant that he worked with a Jungian psychoanalyst in the mid-1920s. What we have here are recordings made for the German Electrola and Parlophone labels after he won the Geneva International Piano Competition in 1927. There are some 1939 Parlophones and, finally, recordings made for the Columbia label (1947-51).  

The first CD opens with Brahms’ Piano Concerto no. 1. Here the Philharmonia are conducted by Basil Cameron, in a recording dating from 1947. I find it difficult to understand why Arrau disavowed this recording, considering it not only too fast, but metronomic and superficial. Apparently, his teacher Martin Krause didn’t encourage his young pupil to study the Brahms’ concertos, and Arrau came to them quite late, in his twenties. Yet, by the time this recording was made, he was already a mature artist of forty-four. I think it’s a very vital, engaging and compelling performance, and I certainly don’t find the speed an issue. Also, I discern a mutual sympathy between conductor and pianist. He later made two further recordings, with Giulini (1961) and Haitink (1969). These two readings offer a more broad realisation with slower tempi, the Haitink being more so than the Giulini. This traversal with Cameron has been issued before on the Urania label. I have never heard this reincarnation to compare the transfer, but the sound here is dated and results in some lack of detail in both the piano and orchestral parts.
This CD also includes a very eloquent reading of Mozart’s Piano Sonata in B flat, K570 in remarkable sound for 1951. I would single out the very expressive second movement, which is beautifully realized.
Beethoven always featured prominently in Arrau’s career and he had two complete sonata cycles under his belt, as well as many individual sonata recordings. The three Beethoven sonatas included here date from 1947-51. Op. 27, No 2 and Op. 31, No. 3 were recorded in the Abbey Road Studios, London. For the Op. 10 Sonata, the venue is not detailed. Included with this sonata are two alternative takes of the third and fourth movements. The notes state that these are newly discovered. Both these alternatives and the final takes of this sonata suffer from what the notes describe as ‘print-through’. I can only assume that, as Op. 10, No. 3 was recorded in 1951, later than the other two sonatas, magnetic tape was starting to be used in the recording process. An unwanted effect of this early use of tape was ‘pre-echo’, caused by the ‘transfer of magnetic information from one layer of tape to the adjacent layer’. This was very noticeable in the quieter moments.
Despite the sonic imperfections of Op. 10, No. 3, the performances here do not greatly differ from those of the 1960s cycle. I have never heard the later 1980s-90s cycle; it seems all but impossible to come by. What I admire in Arrau’s Beethoven is his profound insight into the music. He understands the works’ architecture and structure. Tempi, phasing and dynamics are judiciously applied. His rich, velvety tone is well-suited to Beethoven’s sound-world.
CD 3 offers an assortment of composers, with Chopin taking up the lion’s share. Some of the Chopin and Liszt selections have already seen the light of day on Marston and on Pearl. These early Chopin recordings are a delight, and models of elegance and refinement. Arrau’s pedalling seems more sparing than on his later Philips’ recordings, yet he is able to project a vast spectrum of tonal colour. Filigree finger-work and exquisite voicing of chords, especially in the 4th Scherzo and 3rd Ballade, make these very cultivated performances.
For devotees of Arrau, of which I am one, this is a very welcome addition to the pianist’s discography. Together with the EMI 12-CD Icon Set (2011, 9184322), Arrau’s earlier recordings to me have a certain exuberance, vitality and visceral quality, lacking in those he made much later. As time went on his tempi became slower and his technique less tidy.
Excellent liner-notes, in English, French and German, are provided by Mark Ainley.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Brahms piano concerto 1 ~~ Beethoven piano sonatas

CD 1
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.15* [47:03]
*Philharmonia Orchestra/Basil Cameron
rec. 20-21 January 1947
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata No.17 in B flat K570 [22:06]
rec. 1951
CD 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major Op.10 No.3 [23:55]
rec. 1951 (with alternative takes of third and fourth movement)
Piano Sonata No.14 in C sharp minor Op.27 No.2 ‘Moonlight’ [16:20]
rec. 1 November 1950, No.3 Studio, Abbey Road, London
Piano Sonata No.18 in E flat Op.31 No.3[22:40]
rec. 10, 14 January 1947, No.3 Studio, Abbey Road, London

CD 3
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo No.4 in E Op.54 [11:35]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Six chants polonais (after Frédéric Chopin): Meine Freuden [3:59]
rec. 1950
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
La puerta del vino (Préludes, book II, No.3) [3:18]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Quejas, o la maja y el ruiseñor (Goyescas, book I, No.4) [6:12]
rec. 30 June 1951
Frédéric CHOPIN
Ballade No.3 in A flat Op.47 [6:51]
Scherzo No.3 in C sharp minor Op.39 [7:29]
rec. 4 April 1939
Etude in F minor Op.25 No.2 [1:29]
Etude in C sharp minor Op.10 No.4 [1:57]
Prelude in F Op.28 No.23 [0:53]
Etude in A flat Op.25 No.1 [2:28]
rec. 23 January 1929, Berlin
Waltz No.4 in F Op.34 No.3 [2:15]
Schwanengesang D957 - No.4 Ständchen [2:53]
Valse mélancolique [5:39]
rec. 27 February 1928
Années de pèlerinage (Triosième année) - No.4 Les Jeux d’eau à la Villa d’Este [7:01]
rec. 15 October 1928