CLAUDIO ARRAU: 80th BIRTHDAY RECITAL • Claudio Arrau (pn) • EUROARTS 2058678 (DVD: 111:00) Live: New York 2/6/1983
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 21, “Waldstein”; No. 23, “Appassionata.” DEBUSSY Reflets dans l’eau. LISZT Les jeux d’eaux à la Villa d’Este. Read more class="ARIAL12">Ballade No. 2. CHOPIN Scherzo No. 1
Unlike many of the great European pianists whom Americans came to know only from their middle age on, Claudio Arrau came to this country in his 20s, and from 1941 through the ’50s was a frequent and celebrated guest. An outstanding pianist who played cleanly, with minimal romantic eccentricities yet with convincing feeling, Arrau nonetheless found himself competing for attention against a younger coterie of great pianists who followed like Kapell, Gould, Michelangeli, Pollini, Gulda, Bishop, and Cliburn. That he managed to hold his own is clearly evident from this recital. With the exception of the short Debussy piece, one of his favorites, it is a recital of large masterworks, the kind that are always risky to program together simply because they demand so much.
His reading here of the first movement of the “Waldstein” Sonata is somewhat slower and full of decelerandos and rallentandos that I hadn’t remembered of his Beethoven. I also feel here that the great pianist is in some sense holding back a bit in both emotion and power in order to conserve his resources through such a long concert. Certainly, his second movement is beautifully phrased, and the third proceeds at the proper pace, with excellent passion and control of both pedaling and dynamics.
Arrau opens the “Appassionata” Sonata with a sense of building drama, and although at age 80 he can’t quite give the fireworks the forte outbursts demand, he plays it very well, bringing out salient features of the work’s structure without overdoing the rubato. What I recall of Arrau, at least on records (I never had the chance to see him play live), was that he was always very good at bringing out inner detail, and that is the case here. Again, once he really gets deep into the movement, the power begins to return and the “old Arrau” is at the keyboard. The slow movement, oddly, lacks the hushed quality I remember of such pieces of old, but as he strikes the forceful chords that announce the coming of the last movement, he is again locked in emotionally, despite an uncharacteristic bobble (not a dropped note, really, just struck slightly off) in the middle.
After intermission, Arrau leads off the second half with Debussy’s Reflections on the Water, and here his playing is remarkably sensitive and, well, rippling. Similarly, though on a slightly larger scale, Liszt’s Fountains of the Villa d’Este is also played with tremendous sensitivity and a feeling of proper balance. In a short filmed interview, Arrau explains that one of the tenets of Liszt’s teaching, as he learned them from his own teacher, was a complete relaxation of the body, never to make the hands or fingers tense, for once you begin to tense up you “lose the connection to the soul.”
The Liszt Ballade is another beautifully relaxed performance, in this case, perhaps, a shade more relaxed in the slow section than I would like, but later on, in the fast passages, Arrau is again excellent, invoking images and colors with his playing. He finishes with a fine if slightly slow performance of the difficult Chopin Scherzo No. 1, an excellent concluding piece to an overall good recital.
After the final bows, a birthday cake in the shape of a piano is wheeled onto the stage and, yes, Arrau is taken by surprise. And yet another surprise as tenor Plácido Domingo walks onstage to shake his hand and lead the audience in singing Happy Birthday (this in the days just before the song was copyrighted by some sleazeball who took all the joy out of waiters and waitresses being able to sing that song to their customers).
The concert, while slightly disappointing in places and certainly not on the level of Arrau’s playing from the 1940s and ’50s, is fine enough to warrant your acquiring it if you are indeed an Arrau fan.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Recorded at Avery Fisher Hall, New York, 6 February 1983
Picture format: NTSC 4:3
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Languages: English, German, French, Spanish
Running time: 111 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 Read less