Classical Reissue Reviews

Arrau at Tanglewood = MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 5 in G Major; Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor; Fantasie in C Minor; Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Minor; Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major; Piano Sonata No. 18 in D Major – Claudio Arrau, p. – Music & Arts (2 CDs)

A previously unreleased all-Mozart recital by Claudio Arrau from Tanglewood should prove indispensable to the connoisseur of great keyboard playing.

Published on November 3, 2013

Arrau at Tanglewood = MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 5 in G Major; Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor; Fantasie in C Minor; Piano  Sonata No. 14 in C Minor; Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major; Piano Sonata No. 18 in D Major – Claudio Arrau, p. – Music & Arts (2 CDs)

Arrau at Tanglewood = MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 5 in G Major, K. 283; Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310; Fantasie in C Minor, K. 475; Piano  Sonata No. 14 in C Minor, K. 457; Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570; Piano Sonata No. 18 in D Major, K. 576 – Claudio Arrau, p. – Music & Arts CD-1274 (2 CDs) 66:15; 33:39 [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Chilean piano master Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) appears on a Tuesday evening (21 July) at the 1964 Tanglewood Festival to perform five Mozart sonatas, music in which Arrau’s personal stamp – in spontaneous ornamentation and depth of feeling – could exert itself with his ravishing tone in abundance. Besides the sophisticated wit of the various works, the elastic beauty of Mozart’s adagios and slow movements becomes quite pronounced in Arrau’s etched renditions. We might recall that Arrau enjoyed a long and distinguished relationship with the Boston area, having first appeared in 1924 and concluding his performances in 1988. The lively, taut nature of his virtuosity, so often eviscerated in his commercial recordings, makes its force evident in these muscular readings of Mozart.

Commentator Bernard Jacobson makes reference to the “Dresden China” and overly rococo perspective on Mozart, to which Arrau does not subscribe. His opening G Major Sonata, K. 283, lithely buoyant, exerts a persistent sense of force that Beethoven would inherit. The fleet articulation and canny pedaling testify to a prowess that maintains its own boundaries and sense of appropriate style. That Arrau can propel the line within a fixed pulse and yet evince a degree of metric freedom rather speaks of his mastery of the strict Chopin tradition; and Chopin worshipped Mozart. The 1778 Sonata in A Minor, K. 310, so much a part of Dinu Lipatti’s repertory, receives from Arrau a thoughtful performance, emphasizing in the first movement its sturm und drang character.  The left hand part, often resounding in melodic elements and powerful octaves delivers a decidedly tensile strength. The staccati, executed by the thumbs, ring forth a tragically clarion expression of feeling. The ensuing, broad Andante cantabile hardly brings relief.  Something of Gluck’s sighs in Orfeo infiltrate the affect, the melody paced out accompanied by with an elastic trill.  The middle section, an alternation of arpeggios and pained tremolos and ostinati, proves staggering. A rush to judgment for the Presto, whose hectic tempo and figurations belie the anguish beneath waves of sound.

Arrau the dramatic colorist makes his potent musicianship known in the 1785 Fantasie in C Minor, a compressed symphonic poem for the keyboard, especially as rendered on Arrau’s bright Baldwin instrument. Liquidly legato when he prefers within an “improvised” structure, Arrau creates a doleful operatic aria that soon explodes into contrasting, even tumultuous, moods in five sections. The emotional ties to Beethoven’s Appassionata seem as plain as those to the Pathetique Sonata. Even in spite of an occasional finger-slip the power of the rendition carries us forward, attacca, into the C Minor Sonata. Like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the movement from pensive thought to decisive action occurs in a flash, Arrau flying through the Molto allegro periods in a blur. Ripe cadences and lofty runs and turns dazzle the ear, especially as Arrau speeds through F Minor, G Minor, and inexorably C Minor.  If torrential rains mark the first movement, the central Adagio in E-flat Major basks in an epic serenity in rondo form, with Arrau’s use of tenuto (exaggerated, long-held notes) in sonorous abundance. The chromatic colors of the concluding Allegro assai communicate a dire sense of fatality, especially as the rondo begins and ends in minor.  Vehemently intense, Arrau’s version takes few prisoners, despite a lulling piano tone.

The music-box touch reigns in the two late sonatas by Mozart, the February 1789 B-flat Sonata, K. 570 and the July 1789 Sonata in D Major, K. 576. Arrau gives us the sense of total fluency in Mozart’s unity of themes and affects. The degree of nuance even in Arrau’s staccato might be worth a document or two. Alert to Mozart’s shifts in harmonic rhythm, Arrau adjusts his touch and accents to charm us with poetry and humor. This proves especially true in No. 17, whose first movement remains basically monothematic. An un-characteristic inwardness dominates the Adagio of K. 570, a poised moment of reflection the Romantics would embrace. The same economy of motion and emotion affects the Allegretto, which, though it scampers wittily, does not exult in the wonted Mozart manner. The last of the Mozart sonatas, the D Major, K. 576 combines technical bravura with Mozart’s late-style polyphony. The so-called “Trumpet” motif of the first movement shades the two hands by an eighth note as it evolves with passing dissonances into a rare distillation of sonata-form that transforms the dolce tune into a substantial subject of its own. Arrau’s hands seem to fly, intertwine, and soar, all at once, his trills an organic part of Mozart’s development. The central Adagio in F-sharp Minor/ Major by Arrau achieves a sublime, arioso simplicity of expression, almost deceptively subtle and plain-spoken. Equally “facile,” the Allegretto once propels us into the Arrau version of the Mozart universe, crystalline and elegantly evanescent at once.

Arrau connoisseurs will seek out this M&A set despite the short second disc, if for no other reason that such consummate artistry remains priceless.

—Gary Lemco

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