The widespread availability of so much studio and live Arrau
material should be a matter for rejoicing, though I suspect
it is also a cause for concern: studio or live? Late or early
Arrau? This conductor or that one?
Here we have Cologne broadcasts from the 1950s. Both are works
well chosen to demonstrate Arrau’s great strengths and both
were close to his musical heart, and part of his constant repertoire,
untarnished by time. Yet immediately one senses a question of
collaboration arising. In the Beethoven G major he is paired
with Christoph von Dohnányi, but in the Chopin E minor Concerto
he was accompanied by no less a figure than Otto Klemperer.
Rather than wish that the conductorial duties were reversed
– Dohnányi in Chopin, Klemperer in Beethoven – we should instead
be grateful that Klemperer was taped in what seems to us, perhaps,
as so uncongenial a work (for him) as this.
And yet what emerges is not at all a mismatch, rather a fruitful
tension. Klemperer’s opening introduction is direct, sinewy
and symphonic. His authoritative preparation for Arrau is magisterial
in the extreme and the pianist responds with his usual bewitching
array of tone colours and control of rubati. This latter element
is a constant of the performance and it’s hugely instructive
to hear him drive powerfully through passages and then effortlessly
relax into others. The grammar of the performance remains unsullied,
so right-sounding is the judgement. His playing of the slow
movement is richly engaging but not at all limpid or inclined
to frippery; there’s a sense of power in reserve, fully unleashed
in the finale, which is dynamic, convincingly integrated and
collaboratively successful. Here, too, Klemperer proves an ally,
not at all a stylistic enemy. It would be interesting to know
how often he conducted Chopin concertos during his long career,
and for whom.
The performance of Beethoven’s G major concerto is not dissimilar
from other examples – those with Leopold Ludwig and Bernard
Haitink, for instance. The recording quality in the Funkhaus,
Cologne is excellent, somewhat superior to the (still very good)
Chopin broadcast. Arrau plays with huge distinction; poetic,
controlled, the trills even and measured, powerful but also
agitated, and leonine in the first movement cadenza. There is
typically noble seriousness in the slow movement during which
he explores a remarkable series of sonorities and colours. The
finale is powerful, even rough hewn. Credit, too, goes to Dohnányi
and the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra, which is now known
as the WDR Symphony Orchestra Cologne.
Notwithstanding alternatives, the Klemperer-led Chopin makes
this a very special acquisition for Arrau collectors.