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Jonathan Woolf
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Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Douze Etudes Op. 10 (1835)
No. 1 in C major, allegro [1:55]
No. 2 in A minor, allegro [1:22]
3. No. 3 in E major, lento ma non troppo [
No. 4 in C sharp minor, presto [2:16]
No. 5 in G flat major, vivace [1:41]
No. 6 in E flat minor, andante con molto espressione [2:53]
7. No. 7 in C major, vivace [
No. 8 in F major, allegro [2:23]
No. 9 in F minor, allegro molto agitato [2:09]
No. 10 in A flat major, vivace assai [2:14]
11. No. 11 in E flat major, allegretto [
No. 12 in C minor, allegro con fuoco [2:27]
12 Etudes Op. 25 (A Madame la Comtesse d'Agoult) (1832-36)
No. 1 in A flat major, allegro sostenuto [2:25]
14. No. 2 in F minor, presto [
No. 3 in F major, allegro [2:04]
No. 4 in A minor, agitato [2:18]
17. No. 5 in E minor, vivace [
No. 6 in G sharp minor, allegro [2:06]
No. 7 in C sharp minor, lento [5:18]
No. 8 in D flat major, vivace assai [1:09]
No. 9 in G flat major, allegro assai [1:04]
No. 10 in B minor, allegro con fuoco [4:29]
No. 11 in A minor, allegro con brio [3:36]
24. No. 12 in C minor, allegro molto con fuoco
Trois Nouvelles Études composées  pour la Méthode de Moscheles et Fétis (1839)
25. No. 1 in F minor, andantino [2:05]
No. 2 in D flat major, allegretto [2:24]
No. 3 in A flat major, allegretto [2:04]
Allegro de concert in A major Op.46 [12:22]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
rec. No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London, June and September 1956

These celebrated 1956 performances appear in GROC livery and that will surely occasion only a minimum of debate. Of course Arrau’s Chopin is powerfully personalised  in its partial abjuring of overt delicacy and lyricism it promotes clarity instead. This is a crude summary of the myriad complexities occasioned by his performances, though it remains true to say that this kind of performance sits at a complete remove from performances by contemporaries such as Cortot and Moiseiwitsch. 

Indeed it would be more enlightening to see how Arrau embodied the lines to thine own self be true. He first recorded a number of the Etudes in 1928 and ’29; the F major, Op.10 No.8, followed a decade later. They’ve all been collated on Marston’s invaluable two-disc survey called Arrau – The Early Years and listeners can hear how Arrau’s Chopin deepened and changed over nearly thirty years. One would hardly expect fixity or rigidity of him in any case. The F minor Op.10 No.9 is taken at exactly the same tempo in 1928 and 1956 but the results are very different. The voicings are very different, phrasing is more cumulative and long breathed in 1956, though the immediacy of dynamics in the answering phrases is more vertical and explicit in 1928. The C sharp minor [Op.10 No. 4] is more obviously virtuosic and externalised in the 1928 recording – later on Arrau’s tempo dropped, with the brilliant veneer of the younger self converted into a more considered and pliant reflectiveness. 

That sense of brilliantine varnish is very much audible in the 1929 Op.25 No.2. Thirty or so years later and we hear a tone more moulded and congruent, more expressive rubati and a subtler deployment of left hand voicings. The tempo naturally enough is also significantly slower and there’s far, far less of the whiff of showmanship about it. Maybe some will regret the loss, or diminution of these more externalised aspects of Arrau’s Chopin.

Certainly the rubati are more obviously capricious, as is the phrasing, in something like the 1929 A flat major [Op.25 No.1] which, at the same tempo as 1956, runs less fluently and more as a series of waves. Then there’s Op.10 No.3, which sees Arrau developing a sense more of objective nobility than his younger self – there’s now a plainer, less varnished profile. Exuberance had long since turned to sobriety in the case of the F major Op.10 No.8 – the altogether jauntier, extrovert and public performance contrasts powerfully with the more pliant, straighter 1956 recording. 

The Trois Nouvelles Études and Allegro de concert are very substantial bonuses indeed, eloquently played and entirely reflective of these levels of introspective clarity. 

Jonathan Woolf 



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