> Frederic Chopin [CF]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Frederic CHOPIN
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor
Preludes: The Netherlands, April 1973
Impromptus: Switzerland, August 1980
Waltzes: The Netherlands, March, 1979 and August 1980
Ballades: The Netherlands, April 1977
Scherzos: Germany, April 1984
Nocturnes: The Netherlands, March, 1978
Concertos: London, October 1970
Claudio Arrau (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal (conductor)
PHILIPS 468 391-2 7CDs [455.36] Bargain price


The Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) was one of the last surviving depositories of 19th century tradition if only because his teacher, Martin Krause, was a pupil of Liszt and indeed described the young Arrau as the greatest piano talent since Liszt. He gave his debut recital in Berlin in 1914 followed a year later by a Dresden performance of Liszt's second concerto under Nikisch. His American debut in 1923 was a disaster and it took until his Carnegie Hall recital in 1940 to make good the damage. He was a man of wide interests with both intellectual resource (Cardus said that Arrau has his intellect in his fingers) and philosophical curiosity, who did his best not to specialise in his choice of repertoire. He was a supreme recording artist, (and not all musicians are) with his legacy scattered widely across the 78rpm era to LPs, forever exploring the Beethoven sonatas or embarking on yet further Olympian accounts of the great heavyweight concertos. Chopin, however, was a favourite and regularly found a place in his programmes. The solo piano music here appeared as a collection of six CDs ten years ago (Philips 432 303-2), the seventh now added being the two concertos recorded back in 1970 to make a 15 year-span for the whole set.

One must always bear in mind when surveying all of a great composer's works in a particular genre that it is rather unhelpful as far as chronology and creative development are concerned (and neither is to be lightly dismissed) to have them all lumped together. One easily loses sight of the fact that, in this particular case, Chopin did not write all his Impromptus in one outburst of creativity, neither his Nocturnes nor his Preludes (and a lot else besides which is not part of this set, such as the sonata, the Mazurkas etc). They are all mixed up together, but its perhaps asking too much to have them presented in the order in which they were composed. Whatever the work under discussion, Arrau, with his very personalised and over-calculated rubato, is nevertheless a master of subtle nuance and inner conviction, even though it may not be to everyones taste. He draws nobility as well as rich colours from Chopin's fine melodies, he is a master of balance, with the left hand never abandoned to the melodic superiority of the right, and he brings a distinctive personality to all this solo piano music. The concertos in particular are full of aristocratic poise and match the lustre of an on-form London Philharmonic Orchestra, magical horn sounds in the first, sublime bassoon solos in the second, its phrasing in the tuttis sensitively guided by Inbal. This is piano playing of the finest calibre from one of the most universally acclaimed pianists of the last century.

Christopher Fifield


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