About this Recording
8.111263 - BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 / WEBER: Konzertstuck / Piano Sonata No. 1 (Arrau) (1941-47)
English 

Great Pianists: Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)
Beethoven and Weber (1941-1947 Recordings)

 

Claudio Arrau was born in Chillán, Chile, in 1903. Within a year of his birth his father died and his mother had to give piano lessons to support her three children. After Claudio made his début at the age of five she moved the family to Santiago so that he could study with Bindo Paoli. By 1911 the Chilean government had decided to fund Arrau's training in Berlin. The greatest influence on him came from Liszt's pupil Martin Krause (1853–1918) with whom Arrau studied at the Stern Conservatory for six years between 1912 and 1918. Krause became a father substitute, guiding Arrau not only in music, but in art, literature and opera. The boy had little schooling, and Krause oversaw most aspects of his life and development. At the piano Krause laid a technical foundation based not only on physical stamina and endurance but also on technique being the means to a musical interpretation and this supported Arrau throughout his long career.

The eleven-year-old Arrau caused a sensation at his Berlin début in 1914, and was only twelve when he played Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat with Arthur Nikisch in Dresden. Unfortunately Krause died when Arrau was at the vulnerable age of fifteen. Arrau never had another teacher after Krause's death, applying his master's methods to any new repertoire he chose to learn. He toured Europe, made his début with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Karl Muck, played under Mengelberg and Furtwängler at this time as well as returning to South America, giving concerts in Argentina and Chile. It would appear that Arrau made his London début in May 1920 with Nellie Melba at the Albert Hall but his début tour of the United States in 1923 was not a great success.

Arrau played in Russia in 1929 and 1930 and from the early 1930s he developed vast recital programmes, relying on the stamina and endurance instilled by Krause. In 1933 he gave fifteen recitals and had four orchestral dates in Mexico City, and in 1935 he performed twelve recitals in Berlin, consisting entirely of solo works by Bach. In 1936 he gave five evenings devoted to Mozart, and in 1937 four evenings to Schubert and Weber. The following year he played the complete sonatas of Beethoven in Mexico City.

Having secured his reputation in Germany by 1940, Arrau decided to leave the country owing to the Second World War. He went to Chile to give some concerts and then decided to try his luck in America again. The series of concerts he gave at Carnegie Hall in February 1941 was a great success. On 19 February Arrau played Bach's Italian Concerto, BWV 971, Beethoven's Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 31 No. 3, and works by Chopin, Liszt, Ravel and Debussy. He also played Schumann's Carnaval, Op. 9 (8.111265) and a critic of The New York Times thought he 'never had heard a more absolutely satisfying or more finely unified performance…' On 14 February Arrau played Weber's Piano Sonata No. 1 in C major, Op. 24, at Carnegie Hall and a few days later, on 20 February was at Victor Studio No. 2 in New York where he recorded the work. When reviewing the recital performance of this work Olin Downes wrote in The New York Times of Arrau's 'courtliness, wit, scintillation [and] chivalric flourish' in Weber.

Arrau continued to record for Victor in America during the war and in April 1946 recorded another work of Weber, the Konzertstück in F minor, Op. 79, a work he played throughout his career. The recording session was held on 13 April at Orchestra Hall in Chicago between 9.30am and 12.35pm. Arrau first recorded the Burleske by Richard Strauss for piano and orchestra (8.111265) and then the Konzertstück. His partners were the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Désiré Defauw, but unfortunately they do not match Arrau's lightness and fleetness of execution nor his elegance. Defauw (1885-1960), a Belgian, was appointed conductor of the Chicago Symphony in 1943, but left after only four seasons and subsequently was conductor of the Symphony Orchestra in Gary, Indiana from 1950 to 1958.

In the late 1940s Arrau changed record labels and began to record for Columbia in America. One of the first recordings he made was of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, with the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. It was recorded on Christmas Eve 1947 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia. This was only the third version of this piano concerto to be issued on LP and at the time of release criticisms were aimed at the balance and recorded sound (which has been improved for this release). A reviewer in Britain complained that, 'A harsh transatlantic gloss has spread over from the latest EMI sleeves, where perhaps it serves a practical purpose, to the quality of recorded sound, where it certainly does not; at least not on English machines'. An American reviewer was more critical of the actual playing, finding the whole affair rather lack-lustre. This may be debatable with hindsight and comparison with later recordings of this work. The performance is strong and forthright in the outer movements although the slow movement is rather short on expressivity.

After the success of his Carnegie Hall appearances in the early 1940s Arrau was in great demand in the United States and by 1943 was giving 67 concerts each season, 21 of which were with the major American orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony and Cleveland Orchestras. From this point Arrau's career was hugely successful for the next four decades. His success in America encouraged him to settle there. He performed the complete sonatas of Beethoven in London and New York, and continued to tour the world. By the early 1980s his amazing stamina enabled him to tour Europe, the United States, Brazil and Japan, by which time he was approaching the age of eighty. In 1984 he returned to perform in Chile after refusing to play there for seventeen years owing to the political regime and died in 1991 in the Austrian town of Mürzzuschlag.

© 2007 Jonathan Summers

 

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Producer's Note

The Beethoven concerto was originally recorded by American Columbia on 33 1/3 rpm lacquer master discs, which allowed for quieter surfaces and a wider frequency range than conventional shellac 78s of the time could reproduce. Columbia's foresight in recording this way became apparent when they introduced the modern LP record and were able to draw upon their store of lacquer masters to produce transfers that rivaled the sound of early tape. An American LP has been the source of this transfer. I have corrected its original flat pitch and tried to tame the fierce string tone of the original recording.

Arrau did not fare as well with his previous record label, RCA Victor. The Weber Konzertstück was issued on 78s only in a murky, bass-shy dubbing. (This was also the source for the later Camden LP, which credited the "Century Symphony Orchestra" without mentioning the conductor or soloist). I have transferred it from original postwar American shellac pressings, trying to bring out more of the bass in the process. The final work on the CD, the first recording Arrau made in the USA, was taken down in an unreverberant studio and pressed on noisy, recycled wartime shellac.

Mark Obert-Thorn

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BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37
Recorded 24 December 1947 in the Academy of Music, Philadelphia
Matrix nos.: XCO 39732 through 39740. First issued on Columbia 13089-D through 13093-D in album MM-917

WEBER: Konzertstück in F minor, Op. 79
Recorded 13 April 1946 in Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Matrix nos.: D6-RC-5342 through 5345. First issued on RCA Victor 12-0281 and 12-0282 in album M-1216

WEBER: Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Op. 24
R ecorded 20 February 1941 in Victor Studio 2, New York City.
Matrix nos.: CS 060669-2, 060670-1, 060671-2, 060672-1, 060673-1 and 060674-2. First issued on Victor 18521 through 18523 in album M-884

 


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