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Claudio Arrau (piano).
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN

Piano Sonata No. 13 in E flat, Op. 27 No. 1 (1801) [16’59].
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56)

Fantasy in C, Op. 17 (1838) [33’06].
Arnold SCHOENBERG (1874-1951)

Drei Klavierstücke, Op. 11 (1909) [13’43].
Claudio Arrau (piano).
Rec. BBC Studios, London, October 16th, 1960 (Beethoven, Schumann); March 13th, 1959 (Schoenberg) ADD mono

A magnificent disc that reveals all of Arrau’s sovereign majesty. Caught at the height of his powers, there seem to be several lifetimes of experience poured into each of these three performances.

Beethoven was ever close to Arrau’s heart of course; one need only think of his Philips recordings. His often reflective standpoint is supremely vindicated in this account of Op. 27 No. 1. Arrau exudes an Olympian sense of calm that suits the first movement’s unfolding processes. This is very carefully considered playing, the articulation imbued with crystalline clarity; try around 4’10, where the return to the opening is a positive oasis of calm. The Allegro molto e vivace has passages shrouded in mystery, while the contrasts inherent in the music are given their due. The staccato Arrau uses is typical of him - short, yet perfectly toned ... each and every note! Typically, over-use of the pedal is eschewed, yet the tone Arrau coaxes from his instrument is marvellously deep and burnished; try around 2’15. Massive finger strength, great depth of sound, coupled with exemplary harmonic vision and an astonishing yet sparing pedal technique contribute to an aura of ease and vision.

There are other Arrau recordings of this sonata, of course, possibly most famously on Philips. In addition there was a live Melodiya LP (1968 live), a September 1971 Ascona concert on Ermitage/Aura and a late New York account (Philips Heritage). Yet his is well worth hearing, as an example of Arrau on top form communing with the Master. An invaluable addition to Arrau’s discography.

Schumann and Arrau make for comfortable bedfellows. The opening of the Fantasy is Arrau personified. Not for him an over-the-top Romantic sweep for the right-hand melody, incidentally here over a warm bed of left-hand semiquavers that is nevertheless a model of clarity, more a jewel-like legato. Voice-leading throughout is an absolute model. Many pianists could learn much here – stand forward Pletnev, M. Try also the ‘chorale’ around 5’30 with its sonorous chording.

Nobody, I am sure, will mind the occasional missing note in the second movement, when it is presented with such majesty and huge sound as this. In contrast, there is the delicacy of the opening of the finale. Most impressive about this last movement is the sheer sense of space. Arrau creates all the time in the world for the musical processes to unfold.

Again, there are various other versions to choose from (Ascona in a Swiss-Italian Radio recording from September 1959 on Ermitage, or a September 1966 Philips LP), yet this performance seems so right that comparisons seem irrelevant – even with Arrau himself!

The Schoenberg is a fascinating, richly rewarding account. The thought of Arrau and Schoenberg together raised my eyebrows, yet it works absolutely beautifully. And perhaps that is the key – beauty. Far removed from Pollini’s (DG) objective yet equally valid take, there are riches galore here. From a bolder than expected initial statement, the music unfolds completely naturally. Notice the affinity Arrau shows with the more flighty, fantastic passages, and how the harmonics sound remarkably well. The pianist is instructed to hold down a four-note simultaneity with his right hand while the left hand activated the held tones by a sf bass figure, then commentates on them from above, cross-handed.

The triplets of the slow second movement are hypnotically rocking and exemplify the sheer concentration of this movement as a whole. Arrau takes quite a fast speed here. Again, a sense of fantasy is to the fore. If I have heard the finale more massively presented, Arrau more than compensates by his amazing sensitivity to textural changes.

A disc that demands to be heard, both as an indispensable addition to Arrau’s discography and as a testament to Arrau at his very greatest.

Colin Clarke

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