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Claudio Arrau

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Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.31
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.32
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No.23
(Swedish Radio Studios, Stockholm, 5 April 1960)

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The celebrated Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau's (1903-1991) career spanned the evolution of recorded sound from his first acoustic recording in 1921 to the digital era of the 1980s. He made studio recordings of selected Beethoven sonatas for EMI in the 1950s and the complete sonatas for Philips between 1962 and 1966. These three sonatas recorded live in Stockholm in 1960 were at the peak of Arrau's career and are extremely rare and have never been issued before. In comparing live as opposed to studio recordings, Joseph Horowitz has said 'I do not find his (studio recorded) cycle conveys Arrau's full stature as a Beethoven player'. In the later sonatas, Arrau himself alluded to the fact that an improvisatory way was required which was difficult to achieve with the constraints of a recording studio.

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Beethoven- Piano Sonata No.23 - III Allegro ma non troppo

Grade 
Agnieszka M
03/Feb/2015

Although Claudio Arrau's Beethoven hardly lacks catalogue representation, this first release of live Swedish Radio performance from April 5, 1960, is revealing in several aspects. For one, the slightly distant microphone placement conveys much of the colour, depth and dynamic proportions of Arrau's full-bodied sonority as one experienced it in a concert hall. What's more, Arrau often lived more dangerously in front of audience.
By 1960 Arru had consolidated the broad, massive, rhetorical Beethovel style familiar from his later recordings, yet the 57 year-old pianist could still unleash firebrand virtuosity at full capacity. In Op 110's first movement, Arru's uncommonly distinct articulation of the left-hand passagework is more shapely and nuanced compared alongside the studio versions, while the Fugue's increasingly elaborate fingerwork takes on greater animation and urgency with little aid from the pedal. Op 111 emerges as a large- scale epic packed with dramatic tension and sustaining power. The hall ambience creates a three-dimensional hue around Arrau's disembodied chains of trills and the Arietta's boundind dotted rhythms press ahead without losing the slightest definition. Firmness and flexibility triumphantly merge as Arrau builds the Appassionata's firs movement's sweeping textures from the bottom up, mixing and matching timbres in accordance with the music's harmonic trajectory. In the Andante con moto's first variation, Arrau illuminates the aching dissonance by laying into the off-beat bass notes, and he allows the finale's hidden melodies and motifs within the busy passagework their full due. Only the Presto cod betrays the tiniest hint of fatigue.
Jonathan Summer's perceptive annotations add further value to a release that enhances if not necessarily adds to Arrau's extensive legacy.
Jed Distler

Gramophone

    Grade 
    Agnieszka M
    03/Feb/2015

    Claudio Arrau plays against type in these performances: the sensitive keyboard poet shows a penchant for speed, drama, and virtuoso flair. He was a spry young 57; three years later he performed his only complete, surviving [live] account of Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit.

    The first movement of the Sonata No. 32 moves at breakneck speeds and with dizzying power — check out the brisk, clear-cut rhythms of the introduction. The opener to No. 31 has a slow track timing, but that’s deceptive, because Arrau uses some kind of trickery to give the impression of powerful momentum.

    On the other hand, for all the dramatic power and speedy playing, Arrau excels at the stuff you expect him to do well, too. In No. 31, the adagio and fugue are marvellous long-breathed lines of poetry, not quite as romantic as Gilels (DG) but close. The final sonata’s arietta extends to 18 luxurious minutes, steadily paced but for one strategic hesitation around 11:00. This, most of all, is where you hear a great pianist at the height of his expressive powers.

    The first two movements of the Appassionata confirm our Arrau stereotype: beautifully sculpted, dramatically powerful, but also lyrical and with a measured pulse - an “architectural” interpretation. Then he goes all-out for the finale, which is as virtuosic as anybody’s. The presto coda runs dangerously — and thrillingly — close to the edge of his formidable technique, although I’m let down by the choice to play the two last chords legato, instead of brutally short.

    The live, mono sound from 1960 is not exactly ideal, but it’s not bad, either, in fact almost as good as monaural gets. The audience keeps quiet, and there’s little tape noise or hiss. This is a fascinating live document, and in the Sonata No. 32 it becomes transcendent.

    Brian Reinhart

    MusicWeb International

      Grade 
      Agnieszka M
      03/Feb/2015

      Beethoven, Sonatas 31, 32 and 23 “Appassionata” performed by pianist Claudio Arrau (ICO Classics). One of the greatest advantages enjoyed by those of us living in Buffalo is the opportunity to hear great classical musicians in the perfect acoustics of Kleinhans Music Hall. What we know – routinely – that listeners to classical records don’t necessarily know is who, among the greatest musicians, had an undeniable sonic magnificence all to themselves, unaided by production and electronics. To hear Claudio Arrau play a Beethoven Concerto in Kleinhans with the Buffalo Philharmonic (Krips was the conductor back then) was to hear a Beethoven performance of near-astonishing sonic brilliance, all caused by a man and his fingers, nothing more. Here is a performance from a Swedish Radio studio in 1960 that is a magnificent Arrau performance of the two final Beethoven piano Sonatas as well as the Appassionata. The musician is extraordinary. Tragically lacking, though, in the recording quality of the time is any sense of the incredible grandeur of Arrau’s sound at the keyboard. Great Beethoven performance, nevertheless, however hobbled by the sonics of its era. It’s the first CD release of these performances. 4 stars.
      Jeff Simon

      The Buffalo News

        Grade 
        Agnieszka M
        03/Feb/2015

        Another fine ICA Classics release looks farther back in time, to a 1960 performance by Claudio Arrau (1903-1991), one of the giants of 20th-century piano playing and a specialist in the sonatas of Beethoven. This is an analog recording and in monophonic sound, a combination that results in a (+++) rating for most modern listeners – although the performances themselves are certainly at (++++) level. Arrau performs Beethoven consistently, without overplaying his drama, his intensity or his emotionalism. The “Appassionata” sonata here is clear, forthright and beautifully paced, without the swooning that some pianists have tended to bring to it and with a level of Classical-era poise that serves it particularly well amid its undoubted emotional depths. The relatively infrequently played No. 31 gets an expansive, elegant reading here, with a fine sense of Beethoven’s late style and special attention paid to the sonata’s concluding fugue. And No. 32, Beethoven’s last sonata and one of his most influential, has tremendous heft and intensity here, from the strength of its first movement through the jazzlike elements in its second that make the work so incredibly forward-looking. No, the recording is not ideal and the sound is not up to modern standards – although it is more than satisfactory except for insistent audiophiles. Yet Arrau’s way with Beethoven is so convincing, his handling of this music so satisfying, that this CD is worth owning at least as a supplement to more-modern recordings, if not necessarily as a first choice.

        Infodad.com

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