Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, Schubert, Bach & Debussy

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COMPOSERS: Bach & Debussy,Beethoven,Brahms,Chopin,Liszt,Mozart,Schubert,Schumann
LABELS: Philips
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Claudio Arrau Ð an Anniversary Tribute
WORKS: Works by Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Mozart, Schumann, Liszt, Schubert, Bach & Debussy
PERFORMER: Claudio Arrau (piano), Arthur Grumiaux (violin); Dresden Staatskapelle, LSO/Colin Davis, Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: 473 461-2 ADD/DDD Reissue (1952-91)
Despite his sovereign command of the instrument, pianist Claudio Arrau always eschewed virtuosity for its own sake. Just as he struggled to read between the music’s lines, he expected as much of his audience. As a result, you cannot listen to Arrau casually; you have to work with him. Surface charm, showmanship, and scintillation have little to do with the inner strife and search for clarity that inform Arrau’s ample rubatos, unsplintered chords, and full-bodied passagework. His Liszt, for example, reveals the forward-looking harmonic terrain and spiritual dimensions beneath the composer’s glittery surface. While certain pianists plough through the codas of Chopin’s Scherzos and Ballades for effect, Arrau, by contrast, takes trouble to articulate and give meaning to the polyphonic undercurrents. If Gieseking painted Debussy’s landscapes in delicate pastels, Arrau responds to Book 2 of the Préludes with bold, primary colours. His Mozart and Bach mirror the intense, pulsing vibrations of the human voice, an instrument for which, as Arrau claimed, no two notes share the same dynamic.

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Small wonder that Arrau favoured the overt passion and tumultuous keyboard-writing of Brahms’s earlier works, and responds accordingly to the confrontational dimensions of the F sharp minor Sonata and D minor Concerto. The finale of Schubert’s C minor Sonata, D958, in Arrau’s visionary hands, comes off less an energetic gallop than a stormy death ride. Yet Arrau’s supreme pianistic control could also yield ethereal, disembodied sonorities like the gorgeously timed chords at the end of the first movement of the Schumann Fantasy, the chains of trills in Beethoven’s Op. 109 Sonata and the Diabelli Variations’ introspective movements.

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The latter, incidentally, marks the first ‘official’ reissue of Arrau’s long-unavailable 1952 recording for American Decca (the Chopin items come from these sessions, too). There was plenty of room for Arrau’s 1952 Beethoven Eroica Variations: a pity they’re missing. A lone specimen from Arrau’s curtailed Beethoven violin sonata cycle with Arthur Grumiaux confirms that neither musician’s hearts were involved in the project. These quibbles, however, shrink in the face of Arrau’s challenging, uplifting artistry.