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Claudio Arrau Plays Beethoven, Schumann, Schoenberg
Ludwig van Beethoven, Robert Schumann, Arnold Schoenberg
Claudio Arrau Plays Beethoven, Schumann, Schoenberg
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (9) - Disc #1


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Outstanding BBC recital by Claudio Arrau
jsa | San Diego, CA United States | 01/26/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Claudio Arrau had long been identified with the music of Beethoven & Schumann by the time that these 1960 BBC recordings were made (apparently for radio broadcast). Arrau had played all of the Beethoven sonatas in a famous series of Berlin recitals in the 1930's & it was a performance of Schumann's Carnaval in a 1941 Carnegie Hall recital that helped launch his American career. Consequently, Beethoven's Sonata No. 13 & Schumann's Fantasy, were natural choices for the BBC program. Arrau recorded both of these works for Philips in the mid-sixties, recordings that are still available; however, one must purchase the complete Beethoven sonata set & a seven disc Schumann package to get them.

But that's beside the point. As is well known, Claudio Arrau's studio recordings are not always the best representations of his art. While he made many great records for Philips in the later part of his career - his solo Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy & Liszt cycles are all outstanding - live recitals that have appeared on labels such as Aura & APR reveal an artist who often played much more spontaneously in front of an audience where he delivered readings bristling with imagination & excitement. It is probably true that the forward momentum of his playing in recitals was in part a function of the "neurotic rushing" that came along with the anxiety of being on stage - something he was always on guard about & was so aware of in the playing of others. Nevertheless, an audience served a purpose other than simply being there to hear him - they were also there to inspire him. While the recordings on this BBC disc were not made before a live audience (the liner notes do not provide any recording information other than the dates), the intensity & spontaneity of the playing suggests that Arrau may have performed these works for live broadcast.

Whatever their origins, the results are superb. Arrau's distinctive polyphonic approach works brilliantly in the op. 27 sonata - the BBC mono recording has a strong sense of rhythmic drive whereas the Philips stereo recording made two years later is beautifully polished & has a magnificent sweep to it. There's little difference between the recordings as far as the playing times for each movement is concerned, yet there is a sense of urgency to the BBC version that's missing from the Philips version. Despite this, I don't necessarily prefer one reading over the other as they are very similar in scope and execution.

The BBC Schumann Fantasy is an entirely different matter - it's vastly superior to the recording Arrau made for Philips in 1966. The BBC reading is a tour de force of frenetic energy, whereas the Philips recording suffers from the overstatement that Arrau leaned toward in the studio. This is especially evident in the Fantasy, which I think is the least successful of his major Schumann recordings. Interestingly, it is Vladimir Horowitz's 1965 Carnegie Hall performance of the Fantasy that sounds the most like what you would expect Claudio Arrau's version to sound like, yet in the BBC reading it is Arrau who sounds like what you might expect from Horowitz. The second movement played by Horowitz sounds like typical Arrau - grandly paced, filled with epic tension - so it is a real surprise to hear Arrau tear into this movement at a pace that is most unusual for him. Having been conditioned by years of listening to Horowitz's magnificent architecture, Arrau is almost too fast here. This performance is no fluke either as an incredible 1959 recital (available on Aura) features a nearly identical reading of the Schumann. All in all, though, this is a great performance, even if Horowitz remains unrivaled in this work.

In his later years Claudio Arrau didn't deviate much from the standard classical repertory, so it's a great bonus to have Schoenberg's Three Piano Pieces, Op.11 included on this disc (recorded 1959). Based on these recordings it's a shame Arrau didn't record more modern music as he had a real feel for Schoenberg. After hearing these pieces I could also imagine Arrau as an outstanding Scriabin player, although I know he abhorred Rachmaninoff & perhaps placed Scriabin in the same category.

To summarize, this disc is an outstanding example of Claudio Arrau's art that I would highly recommend to all lovers of great piano playing."