Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor Op.11 (1830) [40:37]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G major Op.58 (1806) [36:00]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra/Otto Klemperer (Chopin); Christoph von Dohnányi (Beethoven)
rec. 25 October 1954 (Chopin) and 6 April 1959 (Beethoven), Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5045 [76:37]

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.

Jonathan Woolf

The Klemperer-led Chopin makes this a very special acquisition for Arrau collectors.