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
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.