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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 (1854/58) [50:55]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 83 (1878/81) [52:52]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor Op.54 (1845) [33:20]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770–1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (1800) [38:41]
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 (1806) [35:11]
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Sudwestfunk Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden/Ernest Bour (Brahms 2; Schumann)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SDR/Eliahu Inbal (Brahms 1)
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart des SDR/Gary Bertini (Beethoven)
rec.1972, Liederhalle, Stuttgart (Brahms 1), 1969, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden (Brahms 2), 1972, Hans-Rosbaud-Studio, Baden-Baden (Schumann), 1980, Liederhalle, Stuttgart (Beethoven)
SWR MUSIC SWR19084CD [3 CDs: 211:24]

A significant number of Claudio Arrau’s broadcast performances have survived, a fact easily understood given that he continued performing in public well into his late 80s. Nor did he stint the largest canvasses and the grandest of romantic pieces, taking on two-concerto engagements – such as the two Beethoven concertos here, given when he was a mere 77 – almost as a matter of routine.

This 3-CD set of SWR broadcasts covers the years 1969, 1972 and 1980 and offers no discographic novelty. Instead there are the most tried and trusted elements of his repertoire: Schumann, the two Brahms and two Beethoven concertos accompanied by Eliahu Inbal, Ernest Bour and Gary Bertini. To say of Arrau that he maintained an awesome standard of executant clarity and a probing depth of utterance is to say nothing more than the obvious. He and Inbal approach Brahms’ First Concerto in a similar way that Arrau and Giulini had with the Philharmonia twelve years before. We are, by now, a long way from Arrau’s more kinetic and muscular 1947 78rpm set with the Philharmonia and Basil Cameron. The powerful stereo recording picks up an empty studio and allows stratified winds and horns to emerge, Inbal delineating orchestral strands with great care. Balances are fine, ensemble cohesive. In the finale Arrau is faster than his Giulini reading, the invigorating drama of a live situation driving him onward, though he doesn’t quite match his tempo with Cameron.

In the Second Concerto, where he is teamed with Bour in 1969 – the first movement occupies the first disc but the remainder of the concerto is split on the second - he takes the slow movement at a more reverential and expansive tempo than he had with Giulini only seven years before. But there is lightness and relative vivacity in the finale in another memorably persuasive and articulate, richly hewn performance. The Schumann comes from the same broadcast and sports a conspicuously finely executed cadenza but the conception here is even more reminiscent of the 1957 LP he made with Galliera than the Brahms were of Giulini.

He essays the Beethoven Third and Fourth concertos with Bertini. Give or take the occasional balance question or the occasional detail of phraseology, these are also not dissimilar to other better-known readings – principally his 1955-58 concerto cycle with Galliera or the 1959 WDR/Christoph von Dohnányi broadcast of No.4. By analogue with the Brahms with Cameron, his 1947 reading with Ormandy and the Philadelphia of the C minor was indicative of a rather different approach from both soloist and conductor, which is notably tighter in the second and third movements. The advantage of the excellent studio sound in Stuttgart stands out; indeed, when Arrau makes couple of trivial mistakes in the Fourth’s cadenza it comes as a bolt from the blue, so unflappable is his mechanism.

No revelations then, and none were to be expected; only excellence. These strikingly well performed and well recorded concertos augment Arrau’s extensive recording list with fine results.

Jonathan Woolf

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