Claudio Arrau - The 80th Birthday Recital
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in C major Op.53 Waldstein
Sonata in E minor, Op.57 Appassionata,
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images Book 1 - Reflets dans l’eau
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Années de Pèelerinage; Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este; Ballade No.2 in B minor
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo No.1 in B minor
Claudio Arrau (piano)
rec. Avery Fisher Hall, NYC, 6 February 1983
TV Format - NTSC 4:3, Sound PCM Mono, Region Code 0 (worldwide); Colour; Languages E, F, D, E
EUROARTS 2058678 [111:00]

Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Sonata in C major Op.53
Sonata in C major Op.2 No.3
Sonata in C minor Op.111
Sonata in E flat major Op.27 No.1, Sonata in E major Op.109, Sonata in E minor, Op.57 Appassionata, Sonata in C sharp minor Op.27 No.2 Moonlight, Sonata in E flat major Op.81a Les Adieux
Claudio Arrau (piano)
rec. Beethovenfest, Bonn, 1970 (DVD2) and 1977 (DVD1)
TV Format - NTSC 4:3, Sound PCM Mono, Region Code 0 (worldwide); Colour (DVD1) and black and white (DVD2)
EUROARTS 2058708 [85:00 + 105:00]
Arrau’s impressive posthumous representation on video continues with these releases dedicated to his art. One is a two DVD set which covers two performances from the Beethovenfest in Bonn in the 1970s. The other documents his 80th birthday concert at Avery Fisher Hall in 1983.
The birthday concert was a typically heavyweight affair, opening with the Waldstein - a sonata with which he frequently opened recitals - and continuing with the Appassionata. This offered few concessions to frippery, frippery being in Arrau’s case a commodity in very short supply. The playing is in his best late style, if one can term it thus; powerful without becoming clogged or clotted, as could sometimes be the case in old age. Because of some cleverly positioned camera work, panning and zooming from the front of the stage but from beneath, we can see Arrau’s touch at the keyboard, and perhaps attempt to gauge its weight of depression; there is less opportunity to see his pedalling, but this is an occupational hazard of filmed piano concerts, where the main shot is the keyboard shot, whether laterally, from beneath, or above, or via reflections in the piano lid. Seldom does one ever see a shot of pedalling.
In general camera shots are best close-up; longer shots are rather cloudy, and lose a degree of clarity, but the extreme long shot, as if from the back of Avery Fisher Hall, which held almost three thousand that day, with plenty of people on stage, does suggest something of the rite that was being enacted that night. Neither of the sonatas is temporally greatly different from other filmed examples; there’s a BBC Celebrity recital from 1960 that is similar to this Appassionata though of course the sound is less rich. The Beethovenfest Waldstein is not dissimilar to this 1983 performance, though maybe just slightly lighter tonally.
After Beethoven the audience heard a slightly too rich Debussy Reflets dans l’eau and a powerful Lisztian brace - Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este and the brooding narrative that is the Ballade No.2 in B minor. Both attest to Arrau’s outstanding perception in this repertoire. Chopin’s Scherzo No.1 in B minor ends the evening triumphantly, and then the celebrations start. In his grey frock coat affair and cravat he is regaled by Placido Domingo, who wheels out a vast cake in the shape of a piano, and sings, along with the audience, an appropriate ‘Happy Birthday’.
There is one brief interview segment in which Arrau confesses that ‘deep down I’m a Romantic interpreter’ and that he needs Liszt ‘more and more’. Introductions and linking segments are by Martin Bookspan, who is in unctuous ‘host’ mode.
The Beethovenfest discs mark the 1970 and 1977 festivals, the former in black and white, and the latter in colour. The 1977 concert is where we get the ‘reflection in the piano lid’ shot, drawing back therefore to reveal two Arraus, the conjunction of whom is the most artistically expressive and extreme moment in these two DVDs. Arrau’s tone is one of thick velvet. He brings out the Haydnesque quality of the C major Op 2 No.3. Op.111 is typically weighty in that late style, but the elevated nature of his playing of the Arietta should perhaps not have been subjected to a left/right montage shot. These binary directors!
The opening movement of the E flat major Op.27 No.1, which opens the 1970 footage, is noted as having been in a ‘restored sound version’, though I couldn’t find further elucidation. It sounds perfectly reasonable, which is maybe the point. There are a few distractingly shaky panning shots. But the picture definition remains good and there are less auteur-like moments from the director. Arrau is typically expansive in Op.109, playing its last movement with august control at quite a remove from his more stringent and ascetic German contemporary Friedrich Wührer. In this black and white footage one can also see Arrau play the Moonlight and Les Adieux, both performed with powerful intensity and control and not an ounce of bogus sentiment.
These DVDs are, fortunately, complementary, charting Arrau at different stages in his later life. Given the choice I would go for the Beethovenfest discs.
Jonathan Woolf

These are fortunately complementary, charting Arrau at different stages in his later life. 

Masterwork Index: Beethoven piano sonatas 1-8 ~~ 9-15 ~~ 16-24 ~~ 25-32