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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat, Op. 110 [20:37]
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 [27:30]
Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, Op. 57, Appassionata [26:08]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
rec. 5 April 1960, Swedish Radio Studios, Stockholm
ICA CLASSICS ICAC5122 [74:15]

Claudio Arrau plays against type in these performances: the sensitive keyboard poet shows a penchant for speed, drama, and virtuoso flair. He was a spry young 57; three years later he performed his only complete, surviving [live] account of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.
 
The first movement of the Sonata No. 32 moves at breakneck speeds and with dizzying power — check out the brisk, clear-cut rhythms of the introduction. The opener to No. 31 has a slow track timing, but that’s deceptive, because Arrau uses some kind of trickery to give the impression of powerful momentum.
 
On the other hand, for all the dramatic power and speedy playing, Arrau excels at the stuff you expect him to do well, too. In No. 31, the adagio and fugue are marvellous long-breathed lines of poetry, not quite as romantic as Gilels (DG) but close. The final sonata’s arietta extends to 18 luxurious minutes, steadily paced but for one strategic hesitation around 11:00. This, most of all, is where you hear a great pianist at the height of his expressive powers.
 
The first two movements of the Appassionata confirm our Arrau stereotype: beautifully sculpted, dramatically powerful, but also lyrical and with a measured pulse - an “architectural” interpretation. Then he goes all-out for the finale, which is as virtuosic as anybody’s. The presto coda runs dangerously — and thrillingly — close to the edge of his formidable technique, although I’m let down by the choice to play the two last chords legato, instead of brutally short.
 
The live, mono sound from 1960 is not exactly ideal, but it’s not bad, either, in fact almost as good as monaural gets. The audience keeps quiet, and there’s little tape noise or hiss. This is a fascinating live document, and in the Sonata No. 32 it becomes transcendent.
 
Brian Reinhart

Masterwork Index: Sonata 23 ~~ Sonatas 31 & 32