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Claudio Arrau in Recital, 1969-77
CD 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.7 in D, Op.10 No.3 (1797-78) [24:50]
Piano Sonata No.13 in E flat, Op.27 No.1 (Quasi una Fantasia) (1800-01) [17:16]
Piano Sonata No.23 in F, Op.57 Appassionata (1804) [25:55]
CD 2
15 Variations and a Fugue on an Original Theme in E flat, Op.35 Eroica (1802) [26:01]
Piano Sonata No.30 in E, Op.109 (1820) [21:58]
Piano Sonata No.32 in C, Op.111 (1822) [27:14]
CD 3
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Sonata No.1 in F sharp, Op.11 (1832-35) [35:38]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Sonata No.3 in F, Op.5 (1853) [40:04]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
rec. May 1973, Brescia, Italy (CD1): May 1977, Brescia, Italy (CD2): May 1969, Brescia, Italy (Schumann), August 1975, Turku, Finland (Brahms) (CD3)
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1263 [3 CDs: 68:00 + 75:13 + 76:01]

More live Arrau. In these three CDs, documenting recital programmes between 1969 and 1977, Arrau is taped in Brescia (items from three concerts) and in Turku, in Finland. There is a great deal to savour in the three and three-quarter hours of listening. This is not to say that discographic novelty is much in evidence. Arrau returned time and again to most of these works.
The first disc presents three Beethoven sonatas. Op.10 No.3 was long a favourite and many performances, studio and live, have survived. The whole of this first disc was recorded in mono and there’s some hiss at the top end of the spectrum but this is unproblematic. Arrau sculpts a grimly introspective slow movement and takes a typically ‘trudgy’ tempo in the scherzo. Not surprisingly the dimensions of this performance largely reproduce those of his 1959/60 EMI studio recording, though in Brescia the slow movement is just that bit more extended. Op.27 No.1 may well be best known from Arrau’s Philips LP. That said, the spacious unfolding of material here goes with an engaged sense of the music’s more extrovert qualities, and the nuanced voice leading and vibrancy perhaps make this a front-runner among surviving inscriptions. The first disc closes with the Appassionata, a famed Arrau speciality. Intensity and control mark out this performance. In later years the conception hardened somewhat. If you know the EMI 1960 recording, the outlines are very similar. The live 1985 performance released with the BBC Music magazine is a very different, more marmoreal kind of approach, at least in the opening movement.
Disc two - Brescia 1977, now in stereo - serves up a really heavyweight programme of the Eroica variations and the Opp. 109 and 111 sonatas. The variations are splendidly characterised, and the finger slips are of little account. Op.109 strongly reminds me of Arrau’s slightly earlier 1975 NYC recital, preserved on APR. Again, here, contrasts are not pursued as far as they might be, in the interests of a consonance that Arrau clearly sees in the music. He rather plays down the inherent power of the central movement but the finale unfolds with great grandeur and nobility. Arrau’s sense of space and time is his own, and one must submit, or else take one’s leave. A shame about the preserved applause: I know there’s always a lively debate about this but I can certainly do without it at the end of Op.109. Interestingly he has tightened the tempo for the finale of Op.111, if one contrasts it with his EMI recording in London in 1957. This Brescia performance, again, most resembles the NYC one on APR.
The final disc moves away from Beethoven. He recorded the Schumann Op.11 sonata for Philips and this live Brescia event from 1969, a couple of years after that LP, proves just as convincing. It is indeed helped by the adrenalin of a live recital. Appropriately it’s coupled with Brahms’ Op.5 sonata from 1975. I’m not easily convinced by Arrau’s performances of this sonata, because they are too hugely conceived to be the work of a young man of twenty. Arrau seems to age Brahms via this memorable but surely too extended approach. Curzon makes it sound like another work — a youthful, vital one, whereas Arrau looks back from the vantage of age.
Nevertheless, this space-saving, slim-line package is full of stimulating musicianship.
Jonathan Woolf