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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in E flat, Opus 27 No. 1
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Sonata in B minor
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Opus 52
Nocturne in B major, Opus 62 No. 1
Scherzo No. 1 in B minor, Opus 20
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Recorded 17 Sept 1971, (Swiss-Italian Radio) Chiesa del Colegio Papio, Ascona
AURA AUR 182-2 [77.53]
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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 special experience.

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.

Terry Barfoot


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