Subject: I have found a CD that I think you would enjoy
|Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann, Claudio Arrau|
Schumann: Kinderszenen, Op. 15; Brahms: Paganini Variations, Op. 35
Arrau's Schumann and Brahms in SACD
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 10/30/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Back in the 1970s the Philips label came out with quadraphonic sound -- four channels contained in the grooves of a long-playing record -- that required special equipment. Not many people bought the equipment required for the new technology and then, of course, only a few years later the LP itself died with the introduction of the CD (ironically by Philips and Sony). But the Philips four-channel master tapes were preserved and a few years ago a new company, Pentatone, started by old Philips types, started issuing the quadraphonic recordings in the SACD format. And that is what this CD is. It is a hybrid SACD disc, meaning it can be played on both SACD and regular stereo machines.
The performances here by Claudio Arrau are among his most loved. And in a way the two pieces represent two ends of the piano literature spectrum in that the pieces in Schumann's Kinderszenen are fairly simple, at least in overall effect, and Brahms's Paganini Variations are among the most virtuosic works in the literature. In fact, though, Kinderszenen, for all its simplicity, takes a master musician, and we certainly have that in this performance by Arrau. First, he has a luxurious sound. Just listen to the warmth and richness in the most famous of the Scenes, 'Träumerei'. Schumann wrote that these pieces were about adults reflecting on their own childhood and somehow with Arrau one can hear both the innocence of the child and the knowingness of the adult. For instance, in 'Ritter vom Steckenpferd' ('Knight of the Hobby Horse') there is the thrill of the ride allied with the slight sense of the ridiculous. 'Fast zu ernst' ('Nearly too serious') continues this double-sighted view, with both seriousness and ruefulness. This is a masterful set of performances.
The performance of Brahms's 'Paganini Variations, Books I and II' is probably more familiar from its inclusion in the hugely popular 200-CD Philips collection of 'Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century' where it appears on the first of the three Arrau 2CD sets. But, of course, in this iteration it is heard in four-channel SACD rather than plain stereo, and this does make for a richer sonic experience. As for the performance, one might say that Arrau is not quite as hellbent-for-leather as some such as Michelangeli or Francesco Libetta, but it is a rich, thoughtful, and thoroughly virtuosic. Arrau has always struck me as a complete pianist with a more than ordinary humanity allied with the sophistication of his playing. That is certainly true in both these performances.
The only drawback to this CD is that, for its price, it has a short timing -- ca. 46 minutes -- which only makes one want to hear more of Arrau's artistry. Indeed, after I'd first listened to this disc I did just that. I pulled out the aforementioned Philips 'Great Pianists' collection and listened to the Schumann 'Fantasie, Op. 17', one of my all-time favorite versions.