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Penguin Guide, January 2009

This is Arrau at the height of his powers. The Third Concerto was recorded on Christmas Eve 1947 on 33-r.p.m. lacquer discs and finds Arrau’s performance (in the words of the Record Guide) ‘powerful, masculine, yet informed with a thoughtful, imaginative quality’. The Konzertstück was recorded in the course of a morning in April 1946 in Chicago with Désiré Defauw conducting and so is a ‘live’ performance and has great dash and sparkle. Olin Downes in the New York Times spoke of its ‘wit, courtliness and chivalric flourishes.’ It remains one of the best ever records of this piece, once often encountered in the concert hall but now much neglected.

Colin Clarke
MusicWeb International, November 2007

Although there is a documented live performance dating from 1944, the present account stands as Arrau ’s first official recorded account of the Third. This performance was originally issued on American Columbia; indeed an American LP was the source of this Mark Obert-Thorn transfer. Arrau’s 1964 recording with Haitink and the 1958 one with Galliera are probably his most famous. There is also a live Testament performance with Klemperer.

The first movement orchestral exposition under Ormandy and the Philadelphians is perhaps rather literal at times, with violins shrill. Arrau, too, is stand-offish, yet his trademark polish and aristocratic bearing are in evidence. The perfect, polished trills are a marvel, while Ormandy maintains his reputation as an accompanist par excellence by sticking to his soloist like superglue. Beethoven ’s cadenza is an oasis of lyricism in an already lyrical reading. The final trills are seamless undulations of energy that retreat gently into the return of the orchestra and those heartbeat-like timpani taps. Unfortunately the orchestral close tends towards the fierce on this transfer.

The Largo is rapt through and through. The orchestra cannot really meet Arrau‘s intensity of thought, though and some might find the soupy string portamenti a little hard to take. Amazing, given the recording date, that the bassoon emerges beautifully clearly, and yet one can also relish Arrau ’s watery arpeggio accompaniment. Just before the seven minute mark there is some rawness to the sound which may have come from the pressing used, although it quickly rights itself. Ensemble suffers slightly around 8:30 although Ormandy redeems himself at the very close, with cellos acting as a heartbeat to the final bars. The finale is a model of expert articulation from Arrau. Pedal is on the light side - as was to become a lifelong characteristic of this pianist. There is lyricism from the orchestra: the clarinet subject around 3:30, for example. I just wish that the orchestral fugato at 4:40 was a touch tighter from the Philadelphians, but in fairness there are compensatory factors later on, when the players seem more alive. And who can forget Arrau’s roulades just before the coda, worth the minimal price of the disc alone? Dryness is again felt in Arrau’s rendition of the coda, but there is playfulness here, too.

There is a commercial account already available of Arrau in the Konzertstück on an EMI GROC (reviewed by myself earlier this year). There are in fact no fewer than four versions by this pianist - the other two are with Erich Kleiber in 1947 and Horst Stein, live in Berlin in 1982. The Chicago strings in the Naxos transfer make a lovely sound. Obert-Thorn used a post-war American shellac pressing and brought out some of the bass to excellent effect. Arrau seems more spontaneous in this earlier 1946 version; the London one dates from 1960. He seems also very keen indeed to bring out the darker side of Weber, especially in the later stages of the opening section - Larghetto affetuoso. His fingerwork sparkles equally in both versions, so if anything will swing it, it is the rather murky orchestral contribution in the Chicago Allegro appassionato, where detail is easily lost. Miraculously, detail is there every step of the way in the case of Arrau ’s contribution. The March seems to bring out the best from all orchestras and here is no exception. It must be fun to play!

Nice to hear the complete Weber First Sonata instead of just the Perpetuum Mobile - the finale. The piano sound is close, but not unduly so. Arrau provides Weber playing that is as svelte as one is ever likely to hear. His way with the first movement continually had me asking why this piece is not heard more often. It is not Arrau’s way to pussyfoot around his scores, so be aware that there are real contrasts here, between the more robust side and an elfin delicacy unequalled elsewhere. The second movement Adagio is a thing of the greatest beauty under Arrau’s fingers. His legato - again, minimal pedal - is stunning. One is gripped from first to last. True, this is no world-shattering late-Beethovenian musical statement, and Arrau does not pretend that it is. Instead, it is beautifully proportioned and wonderfully heartfelt. The Minuetto is playful but somehow shadowy at the same time, as if reluctant to come out into the sunshine. The finale is a miracle of articulation without a hint of the frenetic rushing by which it is sometimes assailed. Tremendous.

This performance has appeared on a number of other labels, including Pearl (GEMS0070). This is an account that does Weber proud and should ever be available. The documentary nature of this disc makes it a mandatory purchase for those interested in the great work of Claudio Arrau.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, September 2007

Claudio Arrau was born in Chile in 1903, and it was the national Government that paid for the eight-year-old prodigy to study in Berlin. Three years later he made his German debut, causing a sensation the following year with a performance of the Liszt First Piano Concerto in Dresden. From therein his reputation and career was based in Europe, and though he did return to South America to much acclaim, his first visit to the United States was a failure. He did not return there until 1941 when the Second World War forced him to leave Germany and head back again to Chile. This second visit was to be a major success, and it was to provide him with his first concerto recordings as a Victor artist. Arrau’s studies had been with Martin Krause, a pupil of Liszt, and a believer in physical stamina as the key to a secure technique. Sadly Krause was to die when Arrau was 15, and he was to teach himself much of his concert repertoire, while at the same time receiving little education outside of music. It was to be a long career that took him well into his eighties, by which time he had a large discography. Fortunately the buyer of this disc will not have read the booklet before purchase, as the contemporary reviews when this 1947 account of Beethoven’s Third was released being far from approving. By now he had moved to the Columbia label, and certainly the harsh sound given to the Philadelphia strings in tutti passages is hard to take, the general orchestral texture thick and ill-defined while intonation is sadly wanting by modern standards. By contrast Arrau’s playing is a model of good taste, forceful in the outer movements and nicely propelled in the central Largo, while his accuracy is spotlessly clean, phrases shaped with commendable artistry. Some have commented that it is more Brahms than Beethoven, and to that I have to concur. The Konzertstuck was recorded the previous year for Victor with the Chicago Symphony, the sound of the orchestra rather dry but more rewarding, and this time it is the piano quality that suffers, though Arrau’s limpid runs are dazzling in their speed and absolutely gorgeous to the ear. We return to 1941 for the Weber sonata, Arrau’s first US recording, the sound as dry as a bone. There are still moments of magic, though Arrau tended to rush passages to the point of sounding impatient. In sum this is a disc for those who must have everything of Arrau, the transfer engineers having done everything they can in transferring the originals to CD, surface noise still ever present.

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