Recorded live for Swiss-Italian Radio some thirty years
ago, this recital by one of the great pianists of the 20th century sounds
well in this remastered form.
As a programme the selection works very well, as we
might expect since it represents the balance of music Arrau chose to
perform that evening. Therefore the listener on CD has the option of
playing the whole programme or selecting from it. In either case the
rewards will be considerable.
The E flat Sonata, Opus 27 No. 1, is among the less
celebrated among Beethoven's output, and certainly less well known that
its companion piece, the famous Moonlight Sonata. But we should not
be deluded into thinking that the fame brought by a memorable nickname
means that the music is necessarily better than other works known only
by drier details such as opus numbers. For Opus 27 No. 1 is a splendid
piece, just under twenty minutes long, containing the full range of
the classical style as Beethoven expressed it at this time. Arrau's
view of the music is very much in accord with these considerations,
while the recorded sound has sufficient ambience and warmth to bring
out the special features of his expressive phrasing, particularly in
the third movement Adagio, the jewel in the crown of this performance.
The Liszt Sonata represents a bigger challenge in every
sense, of course. Arrau was very committed to Liszt's cause and he played
the piece a great deal around this time, touring it throughout Europe
(as I remember from personal experience; the only time I heard him play).
His view of the music is thoughtful and beautifully judged in dynamics,
phrasing and tempi. Not that power is lacking, it emerges most naturally
in the logical context of this great, powerfully built, composition.
There may be other views of this music which are more outwardly brilliant,
and I salute them, but Arrau has a command all of his own. In this sense
hearing a live performance, with all its special tensions, remains a
The three Chopin items bring their rewards too. Her
perhaps the recording misses some of the subtleties of expression that
this elusive music contains, but this is not a major complaint. These
are all true masterpieces, and again the performances are deeply considered
and therefore most rewarding
The audience is better behaved than most, though not
entirely silent, and the recorded ambience is generally pleasing. The
insert booklet contains an interesting and thorough note by Piero Rattalino
which focuses on Arrau while also having interesting things to say about
the music. For this is an altogether pleasing issue which does justice
to the work of a great artist.