Claudio Arrau: The Unreleased Beethoven Recital, 1959 – The Lost Recordings

by | Apr 2, 2022 | Classical CD Reviews, Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Claudio Arrau: Unreleased Recital, 1959 = BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op 81a “Les Adieux”; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A-flat Major, Op. 110; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata” – Claudio Arrau, piano – The Lost Recordings TLR2103039 (3/9/21) 62:00 *****

For those who have long savored  the artistry of Chilean piano virtuoso Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), there is little doubt that he had mastered the Great German Tradition and much of the Romantic tradition through years of assiduous devotion to both the repertory and maintenance of a transcendental technical facility. At any moment in an interview that might address his pedagogy, Arrau would invariably invoke the name of Martin Krause (1853-1918), who had met Franz Liszt in 1882 and subsequently studied with the master in Weimar. Arrau met Krause in Berlin, and Krause became the second father who refined Arrau’s technique, imposed a rigorous intellectual discipline, and imbued an infallible work ethic into the rising virtuoso. Fidelity to the score, passionate restraint, and sighing expressivity would mark the Arrau style, German in conception and structural continuity yet Latin in its poise and sensuous vigor. As a man of eighty, still performing his beloved repertoire, Arrau had slowed his tempos, somewhat, but not the capacity for tonal beauty and a complete security of means.

The present recorded document, from 12 March 1959, allows us to experience the all-Beethoven recital at the Hochschule für Musik Hanns Eisler Berlin in Berlin. Arrau opens with Beethoven’s powerfully interior 1809 Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Das Lebewohl, composed as a testimony to Beethoven’s deeply felt emotions upon the departure, in exile, of music pupil and artistic patron Archduke Rudolph of Austria, following the Battle of Wagram. The motif of loss and possible, spiritual renewal seem apt for this period in Beethoven’s life, considering the loss of his hearing, the death of admired Julie von Vering, and most significantly, the death of Franz Joseph Haydn. The opening motif, set to the word, “Lebewohl” (Farewell) in the right hand, in “horn fifths” finds an opposition in the left hand’s downbeat entry at measure 2, and this pattern of acceptance and resistance permeates much of the sonata. Its three movements, Farewell, Absence, and Return become emblems of loss, mourning, and recovery. Arrau’s studied approach to the Adagio section, its quietude and points of chromatic, grueling pain, assumes a dramatic stature that reaches a crux that leads to the agitated Allegro and its subsequent development, in which the “Farewell” motif undergoes a series of transformations and adjustments, and the disruptive rhythm (of denial) finds its root on C, interfering, for a considerable period, with the restoration of the disturbed element in its original register, for the recapitulation to be complete, for the acceptance of tragedy to have been confirmed. Arrau ends with a glistening codetta and final cadence that prepares us for movement two, Andante espressivo. 

The bitter intensity of this melancholy slow movement, its step-wise and often jarring intervals, tries to find consolation in variation figures that often anticipate some of the late Bagatelles. The music proceeds in a martial 2/4 whose passing dissonances dissolve to a preparatory 7th chord, but then rush forward with grand velocity, attacca, to Vivacissamamente, a joyful 6/8 romp in rondo form. The octave power from Arrau, decidedly thrilling, takes us through sleek bridge passages, glissandi, and barreling (horn call) arpeggios that announce Beethoven’s unabashed delight in his friend’s return, yes, but even more in Beethoven’s own refreshed energies. A momentary, wistful rückblick, backwards-glance, catapults us to a decisive affirmation. 

Beethoven himself designated that the 1820 A-flat Major Sonata, Op. 110, be performed as much as possible as a single, flowing entity, saturated with powerful contrasts of feeling and emotional affect. Arrau opens, gracefully, with  trills and throbbing arpeggios, Moderato – Cantabile molto espressivo, into the plastic and illuminated figures that already herald the composer’s vision of a transcendent reality. The moving trill, as a source of transition, will become a dominant gambit for the later music of the other, “internal” seeker of self, Alexander Scriabin. The solidity of Arrau’s tone, the muscularity of the left hand octaves, always suggests a violence of emotion, though restrained by the appeal to reflection. The explosive F Minor Scherzo: Allegro molto has the character of a rough, rustic dance, playful but potentially dangerous in its boisterousness. This music dies away to a fluid appearance of the last movement’s first section, Adagio ma non troppo. The repeated bass chords accompany a yearning orison, a prayer, rising to a diaphanous passion. Beethoven designates a Klagender Gesang, a song of mourning, that immediately proceeds to the Fuga: Allegro ma non troppo. Arrau traces out the three-voice fugue in stentorian terms, a ringing authority almost at odds with the religious recitative that aligns the music with the late A Minor String Quartet. Do we experience even obsession in the repeated chords that precede yet another evolution of the fugue in competing registers? Arrau seems more concerned with spiritual strength through adversity than with “mere” metaphysics , and his last bars resonate with an iron will.

Arrau now turns to his own Beethoven calling card, the 1807 Appassionata Sonata in F Minor, what composer Czerny called “the most perfect execution of a mighty and colossal plan,” which itself might be labeled “Promethean.” The fact that in 1803 Beethoven obtained an Erard piano, with its extended range of over five octaves and its low F, permitted Beethoven to expand his experiments in sonata form. The sounding of the famous “Fate motif” in movement one aligns the work with the Fifth Symphony and Fourth Piano Concerto. 

Beginning in relative softness, Arrau’s Allegro assai suddenly propels itself with a fury worthy of the entire sturm und drang era. The passing Neapolitan harmonies have something of Chopin in their color, though the marcato utterances and bell tones in arpeggios move to a restatement of the tumultuous exposition, which Chopin actually found repellent. The moving trills and fluid registers create a transition to the next tempest, whose rising scales seem to engage Shelley’s West Wind in its capacity of “creator and destroyer.” The second subject theme, majestic and serene, sings out against the frequent, threatening episodes, almost spasmodic in their resonance. Arrau’s refined diminuendos provide an object lesson in themselves, as do his rolling arpeggios and layered stretti, leading to the left hand’s repeated C. The sudden intrusion, a virtual cry of despair of the “Fate motif,” casts us headlong, and pp, into the chthonian regions of the psyche.

A series of D-flat Major chords, Andante con moto, announce what must pass as “theme” with subsequent variations, each with a repeat. The bass line commands our melodic interest, only grudgingly making its way, first mid-range, into the upper registers. Still the progression assumes a plaintive, vocal aspect, a consolation after the terrific drama of movement one. The bare chords return, slightly embellished, and move to a diminished 7th that displaces the tonic harmony and feverishly sets in motion a pattern of obsessive 16ths in perpetuity. Here, Arrau demonstrates technique and toccata applications of the highest order, a colossus of elemental power of which the piano is capable. We move to the dominant minor five octaves up, sometimes pausing for a singing legato series of scalar motion and pregnant pauses before the mania resumes. Playfully, shards of rhythm collide against each other to assume a volcanic kinesis, and the sequence renews itself. The effect of hurtling dizzily to the Abyss, now ineluctable, breaks off to soften in advance of the recapitulation, which will transform into a presto coda of almost gypsy character. A stomping dance rife with F Minor broken chords, the piece seems to demand that Arrau cascade directly into the maelstrom, both of music and enthusiastic applause from an audience hitherto beguiled in silence.

–Gary Lemco

Album Cover for Claudio Arrau -- The Unreleased Beethoven Recital.jpg




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