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Claudio Arrau in Concert 2
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Sonata No 3 in C Op 2 No 3 (1794-95)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Piano Sonata No 3 in F minor Op 5 (1853)
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Recorded at the 1976 Prague Spring Festival (Beethoven) and at Fisher Hall, New York on 5th February 1978 (Brahms)
APR 5632 [68.58]



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These two live performances derive from recitals in Prague, at the 1976 Spring Festival, and at Avery Fisher Hall in New York on the occasion of Arrau’s 75th birthday in February 1978. The former was taped by Czech radio – rather close and up front and inclined sometimes to shallowness (which accentuates a lightness in bass sonorities) but is otherwise more than acceptable. The Brahms however seems to have been recorded on a hand held cassette recorder by an audience member and whilst Bryan Crimp has worked his accustomed magic on the tape it still doesn’t make for comfortable listening. In addition to the constrictions and extreme limitations of sound there are also sniffs and audience coughs faithfully picked up and magnified.

As APR’s notes explain Arrau restored Beethoven’s Op 2/3 to his active repertoire in time for the 1974/75 season so the Prague recital is one of the earlier fruits of its reappearance. He’d recorded it for Philips in the 1960s but in this live performance there are commensurate gains in depth and tension. He is in fine though not immaculate form technically. The Allegro con brio has a strongly etched drive but it’s the Adagio in which the greatest pleasure is to be found. Arrau’s plangency, his command of sonority and his ability to bind themes are all to be found here in a reading, which, if anything, surpasses his commercial recording for sheer command. If the concluding Allegro assai seems to hang fire slightly the scherzo lacks nothing in affectionate and kinetic direction. Arrau recorded the Brahms Op 5 for Philips on 432302 in 1971. Again, as in the case of his studio recording, he is on ever more energised form. The opening movement may be inclined to gravity at a relatively slow tempo but it’s fuelled by drama nevertheless with some leonine, if occasionally occluded, gestures. Even at seventy-five Arrau was on frequently regal form technically and in the slow movement one can once more witness his mastery of compression and stillness unfolding. He brings pathos but no hint of sentimentality to the movement and evinces colouristic potential without sacrificing the noble gravity he has developed. There is some untidiness at the end of the movement but the Scherzo is full of boisterous spirit, more so than his more staid LP traversal. The finale is again energised to a remarkable degree though he always manages to bring out the lyricism embedded into the Allegro assai; those combustible right hand runs are, if not immaculate, then staggeringly confident. Altogether this is an uncommonly involved and involving performance from Arrau, albeit one somewhat compromised by the sound problems earlier mentioned. As such it falls into the category of "ancillary to the central discography" I suppose but for those who imagine Arrau’s last decade to have been marked solely by docility and lugubriousness, the Brahms certainly will give one cause to reflect otherwise.

Jonathan Woolf



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