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Claudio Arrau (piano)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra (1885-86) [18:32] ¹
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor Op.54 (1835)
[30:33] ²
Carnaval Op.9 (1835) [25:05]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/ Désiré Defauw
rec. Orchestra Hall, Chicago, April 1946 ¹
Detroit Symphony Orchestra/Karl Krueger
rec. Masonic Temple, Detroit, December 1944 ²
Carnaval: rec. Abbey Road Studio No.3, London, April 1939
NAXOS 8.111265 [74:10]

Three expert restorations by Mark Obert-Thorn but otherwise nothing new here for the Arrau admirer. And in truth these are disappointing readings, even the much-praised 1939 Carnaval.

The Strauss Burleske was recorded with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Désiré Defauw in 1946. It can’t hold a candle to the 1932 Elly Ney reading which can be found on Biddulph. Not only is Ney faster and more rhythmically exciting but she brings a far greater quotient of characterisation to bear. Arrau’s sounds rather too staid and non-committal a performance, lacking the evocative glitter that Ney finds in it – and even though she brings splashy moments to bear they’re more than compensated for in terms of spontaneity and verve.

The Schumann concerto receives a disappointing reading. The original recording is dull, Krueger is dull, the Detroit band is dull and Arrau is dull. The recording is distant and sub-fusc and the performance is inert, stiff and ultimately unengaging. Wind solos are recessed sometimes to the point of inaudibility and the only compensation lies in Arrau’s efficient-sounding mechanism – though that’s surely not much compensation. The sense of “fancy” is also alien to the reading – this applies to the central movement in particular – and the finale is lumpen. Having just listened to a 1951 Gieseking broadcast of the work with Günter Wand in Cologne [Medici MM017-2] makes one all too aware how prosaic this Detroit affair really is.

As for the recording of Schumann’s Carnaval, made on 3-4 April 1939, I have very mixed feelings. The Préamble is very combustible with tempo extremes built in, Pierrot choppy and mannered, like a hobbled march. Arlequin by contrast is simply too fast and unstable for comfort. I liked the Valse noble but Eusebius – what was Arrau thinking of? – is indolent and woefully undercharacterised. He does seem from here on to respond rather better but there are still as many ups as there are downs. Papillons is rushed through, Chiarina over excited with hyper-rubati that simply call attention to themselves, whereas Chopin is quite beautiful. Paganini is expertly judged, not too much showing off, Promenade fine and if he uses less pedal than seems to me ideal in the final Davidsbündler movement it’s still a fine ending.

Carnaval has been transferred on Pearl GEMS0070 – a two-disc set; Marston has also reissued it in their two-disc celebration of the pianist’s pre-war recordings [Marston 52023-2]. The Pearl has the usual ration of shellac crackle; the Marston is a touch more open at the top than this Naxos but preserves more shellac hiss.

One for the Arrau collector.

Jonathan Woolf 




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