Notes and Editorial Reviews
Collectors familiar with previous CD editions of these 1974 recordings may want to investigate PentaTone's impressive surround-sound SACD transfers, where Claudio Arrau's piano and the Concertgebouw's superb acoustics embrace in a palpable three-dimensional ambience. Although Arrau inflects the Brahms Paganini Variations with liberal Luftpausen, italicized phrasing, and other emphatic touches, these devices never sound heavy-handed or labored, and always manage to clarify individual strands within the composer's very full textures. As always with Arrau, ornaments occur before the beat, and his gorgeous, burnished tone never splinters.
Arrau's rhetorical proclivities also inform Schumann's Kinderszenen, and mostly serve to
illuminate the music's contrapuntal interest. Examples include Glückes genug's imitative passages, plus Ritter vom Steckenpferd's often-ignored countermelodies and meticulous differentiation between accented and unaccented notes. Arrau's slower than usual Träumerei reveals the pianist's admirable ability to vary chord arpeggiations for specific expressive ends.
While the last four pieces straddle the line between magisterial and ponderous, Arrau's fascinating attention to details like Fast zu ernst's inner voices and Kind im Einschlummern's right-hand bell tones just might win you over, but only just! My only serious reservation concerns PentaTone's ungenerous 45-minute playing time; surely there was room for Arrau's extraordinary recording of Brahms' Op. 2 piano sonata, originally coupled with the Paganini Variations on LP.
--Jed Distler, ClassicsToday.com
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