Pianist Claudio Arrau Plays

by | Feb 7, 2007 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Claudio Arrau Plays = MOZART: Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K. 310; BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
Studio: VAI DVD 4388
Video Format: 4:3; B&W
Audio: PCM Mono
Extras: Interview with Claudio Arrau
Length: 58 minutes
Rating: ****

Taped in 1964 by Radio Canada, this short but intense program by Chilean legend Claudio Arrau (1903-1991) finds the keyboard giant at peak form: aggressive, lyrical, passionate, articulate. The brief interview, in French (with English subtitles), reveals a man as articulate as he is erudite. Arrau speaks of his piano pedagogy, proceeding backwards from Martin Krause to Liszt to Czerny to Beethoven. He recalls having been impressed by D’Albert, Carreno, and especially Busoni. Bach, Arrau notes, is misrepresented in piano performance, as the composer’s true colors shine on the harpsichord or clavichord; the piano is a distortion of effects. Debussy, says Arrau, is the greatest composer for the modern piano, opening whole new possibilities of sonorous realization.

While never a literalist, Arrau always saw his role as a technical medium for the composer’s written intentions. He plays Mozart’s dark A Minor Sonata with a potent, masculine authority. He limits his personality to a few facial grimaces, his eyes closed to any intrusion by the camera. The Mozart proceeds in large arcs; confrontations, really. The delicate Alberti bass figures seem consumed by the leaping, chromatic main theme. The middle movement, an expressive Andante, communicates a romanticism entirely subsumed to Mozart’s own taste. The darkened backdrop exaggerates even further the music’s intimate anguish. The Presto laughs but smiles no more – to paraphrase Poe.

Arrau’s pianistic self-possession extends to a thoroughly masterful rendition of Beethoven’s C Minor Sonata. After a shattering Maestoso, the ensuing Allegro, with its fitful starts and stops, demonstrates any number of dynamic gradations from Arrau. The camera, unfortunately, does not capture Arrau’s pedals. If the opening drama is Senecan, the Arietta and its labyrinthine variations traverse a world of experience, from the musicbox to Kafka. Never a false step, never a slurred line or accent in Arrau’s fearful symmetry, its amalgam of affects. We are in the presence of greatness, from both sides of the creative spectrum in music.

— Gary Lemco

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