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Claudio Arrau in Concert 3
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major Op.109
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major Op.110
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor Op.111
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Recorded at the Theresa L Kaufman Concert Hall, 92nd Street YM-YWHA, New York, 20th December 1975
APR 5633 [69.55]

Claudio Arrau was captured in performance at the Theresa L Kaufman Concert Hall in New York in December 1975. The programme was suitably heavyweight; patrician, noble, spiritual – the three last Beethoven Piano Sonatas. And the event was captured on what must have been an audience member’s portable cassette recorder, maybe with a microphone strapped to a jacket (you can hear the tell-tale microphone rustle at numerous points). The resultant disc gives us performances both grave and romantic but also frustrating. Coughs, splutters, microphone-shake at applause, dropped coins and a veiled recessive sound perspectives are the inherent problems of the disc, unavoidably so given the ad hoc nature of the taping. Are the results worth it and does this disc shed light on Arrau’s perceived greater level of volatility in concert?

Certainly this E major is more obviously romanticised than the Philips recording made in the mid-1960s – gestures are that much more yielding and pliant. Arrau’s richly expressive tonality is here compromised somewhat though it is by the amateur nature of the recording; one feels no sophistry in his playing of the sonata and instead the grave simplicity of the unarguably right. It is only just about bearable when, during the last movement (Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo), the barking cough of a neighbour is only too well picked up. Op.110’s opening movement is a case of contrasts, which in Arrau’s hands becomes polarised, sharply delineated. The Fuga is full of razor-sharp entry point and digital accuracy – whilst strictly observing the ma non troppo direction. In Op.111 I felt that Arrau tended to smooth over certain incidents in the Arietta that ultimately worked against full architectural cohesion. Some of the playing is quite soft-edged and the contrasts that he evoked in the earlier opus are here too greatly magnified, not always to the longer and larger-scaled advantage of the work.

Nevertheless, as an (albeit hit and miss) adjunct to Arrau’s commercial discography this Christmas recital reveals once again Arrau’s intense spiritual identification with late Beethoven. Such distensions as he habitually displayed at this time in his life are not overly problematic here, to the extent that they can be in, say, his Brahms.

Jonathan Woolf

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