Beethoven, Brahms: Piano Sonata in C, Op. 2/3

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Brahms
LABELS: Appian
WORKS: Piano Sonata in C, Op. 2/3
PERFORMER: Claudio Arrau (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: APR 5632
This performance of Brahms’s F minor Sonata — the most ambitious of all his piano works -was given in New York’s Avery Fisher Hall in February 1978, on the occasion of Arrau’s 75th birthday. It’s a piece that suits Arrau’s grandiloquent style of playing very well, while the finale actually has a youthful impetuosity of a kind one doesn’t readily associate with Arrau. It’s true that pianissimo playing is generally at a premium, and that the Intermezzo fourth movement, which transforms the material of the earlier slow movement into a funeral march, is rather lacking in a sense of mystery; but the Andante itself is quite beautifully handled, and Arrau’s grasp of the work’s overall structure is impressive. Alas, the recording is scarcely of professional quality, with the piano sounding terribly distant, and the unwelcome audience contribution considerably more present than the music. As if that were not enough, the whole thing sounds approximately a quarter-tone sharp.

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Better served by the engineers is the performance of Beethoven’s early C major Sonata taken from the 1976 Prague Spring Festival. The tricky finale is played with admirable virtuosity, but Arrau is a trifle heavy-handed in the opening movement, and the main theme of the slow movement is marred by exaggerated first-beat accents. Alfred Brendel’s 1977 recording offers a more serene account of the latter piece; and if you want to know what the Brahms F minor Sonata really sounds like, try Radu Lupu or Clifford Curzon (both Decca). Misha Donat