Claudio Arrau Piano Recital = BEETHOVEN: Rondo in G Major, Op. 51, No. 2; Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101; Sonata No. 7 in D Major; Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, “Appassionata”; BRAHMS: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel – Hanssler

by | Jul 15, 2009 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Claudio Arrau Piano Recital  = BEETHOVEN: Rondo in G Major, Op. 51, No. 2; Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101; Sonata No. 7 in D Major, Op. 10, No. 3; Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”; BRAHMS: Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel, Op . 24 – Claudio Arrau, piano

Hanssler CD 93.703 (2 CDs) 62:09, 51:18 [Distr. by Allegro] ****:

Two distinct studio appearances of the Chilean virtuoso Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) at the Schweitzinger Festival as recorded by South West German Radio appear on this disc, featuring Arrau in the Teutonic repertory that comprised his natural spiritual homeland.  The first recital, of Beethoven and Brahms (26 May 1963), captures Arrau aged 60, in complete command of his considerable technical resources. The opening Rondo in G, with its pre-Classical filigree, so much bordering on the rococo, receives a slow deliberate articulate performance, alternately cantabile and stormy, the darker sections already foreshadowing moments in the Appassionata.

The first of the large sonatas of Beethoven Arrau confronts is the A Major, Op. 101, a piece at the convergence of Beethoven’s middle and late styles, when economic compression of classical forms dominates his ethos. From the outset, Arrau’s concerns are vertical rather than horizontal, as he savors each of the chord progressions and their internal jarrings as though he were presenting and dissecting them, at once. The otherwise rocking rhythm suddenly bursts out in lyric gesture, the antiphonal voices in either hand almost baroque in sensibility. The march movement, however, belies any “slowness” as a mannerism in this realization, the striking dissonances and bass turbulence moving at a fierce gallop. The middle section evolves as a brilliant toccata in shades of light and staccato articulation. A slow Adagio marked “with yearning” acts as a bridge, yet it recalls directly the opening sequence of notes from movement one, trills, and proceeds to the stoical fugue–and its pregnant silences–which Arrau injects with youthful elan.  

Arrau immediately presents the ceremonial character of the Handel B-flat theme, its subdivision of four bars repeated, all but one decorated. Arrau’s approach remains staid, deliberate, non-bravura, at least for its own sake. He splices the variants as groups of twos and threes, staccato and legato, homophony against polyphony, tonic major against tonic minor, except when Brahms explores a relative minor key (Variation 5). When Arrau wants a massive sound, he unleashes it: six-note chords sforzato, a torrent of sixteenth notes in octaves in Variation 4. The use of contrary motion infuses Variations 5 and 6, the latter in a strict two-part canon in octaves. Drum beats accent the quick martial character of No. 8 which flows directly into a stately, repetitive No. 9, Arrau keeping a tight leash on the rhythmic pulse. A group of sweet variations follows, allowing Arrau’s keyboard tigers to purr rather than tear at our heartstrings. A funereal Hungarian fantasia marks Variation 13, perhaps the spiritual “middle” of the entire set. Arrau takes the “sciolto” Variation at breakneck speed, making “loose” analogous to “wild.” It leads to a kind of etude in preparation for the B-flat Piano Concerto, No. 15. Arrau’s eight-note patterns in No. 16 communicate lithe youth, which the next variation (piu mosso) expresses as falling tears or raindrops. Variation 19 shows what Brahms and Arrau can do in antique music, Brahms in the form of Couperin. Triple versus duple time marks Variation 21, and it leads into the famed alla musette Variation 22, the ringing B-flats taken by Arrau in tiny arches, delicate porcelain music with light glimmering along its surface. From swirling depths emerges No. 23, already conveying a powerful undeniable impetus that sweeps us forward, Arrau missing a few notes in this rise to Variation 24 and its wild sixteenth notes.  Arrau realizes the massive fugue in the spirit of a Bach organ exercise in stretti and carillon-like pedal point, though he sweetens the textures in the plastic, calmer episodes. An uncompromising tension resides in every bar, as though we must never forget how organic the fugue is to the rest of the composition, a consummate conclusion.

The two Beethoven sonatas from 20 May 1973 find Arrau at seventy barely diminished in his powers, only more deliberate in his applications of touch and measured dynamic flux. He gives perhaps more gravity to the D Major Sonata from Op. 10 than some: the entire tone conveys a dark hue more in keeping with middle period Beethoven. Little remains of Mozart’s world, despite the occasional concessions to ornaments, the Alberti bass lines, and brisk runs and scales. The cut time of the first movement has Arrau working, but he keep the shapeliness of the experimental fragments and detached “bells” of sound lucid and logical. The D Minor Largo e mesto assumes an extraordinary, expressive breadth here with Arrau, a tragic meditation worthy of Liszt and the whole Romantic movement. The last two movements enjoy a healthy vivacity, a lighter pearly hand, as though all of earth’s misery had been expelled in the second movement, and the will to life had reasserted its irrepressible self.

Arrau’s Appassionata betrays no signs of age: his pacing, his trill, his huge sonority remain intact as he sweeps through Beethoven’s Neapolitan figures, the potent, four-note “Fate” motif studied and explosive, especially in the Fs that represent the lowest note Beethoven had available.  But rather than dwell on the visceral almost demonic maneuvers from Arrau in the blazing outer movements, I would turn collectors’ attention to the noble line Arrau delivers in the D-flat theme and variations Andante, a quietly “tragic” hymn to life, the third (double) variations thirty-second notes miraculously retaining the affective character through a master of tonal weight and colors. The huge diminished 7th chord takes us, Attacca, and we find ourselves in the throes of the Presto – a Herculean ride at any age. If Prospero ever controlled the raging tempests of the heart, Arrau asserts his dominance in exquisite balances in every bar – definitely worth the price of admission and heartily recommended.

— Gary Lemco


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