Arrau's ample rubatos, bass-oriented sonority, and dynamic breadth probe beneath the music's surface panache.
...Arrau's Liszt is special for several reasons. For one, he addresses the music's formidable virtuosic demands by the most scrupulous and honest of technical means. And unlike many Liszt specialists who play free with the composer's text by way of filling out textures, adding octaves, and composing cadenzas, Arrau takes Liszt's markings on faith and resists any temptation to speed up or slow down for effect's sake. Vallée D'Obermann, Funerailles, and La Leggierezza are good examples of the latter.
This does not mean Arrau treats Liszt objectively--far from it. His ample rubatos,Read more bass-oriented sonority, and dynamic breadth probe beneath the music's surface panache. If you're looking for charm and scintillation, you've picked the wrong pianist. But listen to the rainbow of colors he gets from the arpeggio sprays in Les jeux d'eau à la Villa d'Este, the complete Verdi Paraphrases, or Waldesrauschen and you'll understand what transcendental virtuosity is all about. Indeed, the 12 Transcendental Etudes reveal Arrau on his most technically and musically impassioned form--no small feat for a pianist in his early 70s... [F]ew pianists besides Jorge Bolet manage to gild this repertoire to Arrau's aristocratic specifications. If you love Liszt, you'll love him even more when you hear Arrau.
Arrau was entering his seventies when these performances were taped...in March 1974. An omnicompetent technique was intact, while expressiveness, suggesting the wisdom of a lifetime, blossomed. “Feux-follets” is punctilious yet quirky, leisurely and glowing, which is to say, not hustled. “Mazeppa” evinces more a canter than a gallop—virtuosically scintillant if not pyrotechnically coruscating—but still grandly compelling... The remaining Études are magisterial in any company, that is, even the best of today’s pianists could learn from them. “Paysage” is all rapture; “Ricordanza” (which Busoni compared to a bundle of faded love letters) is a steady spate of surprises and felicities, like fond memories awakening; the expressive crescendo of “Harmonies du soir” takes one’s breath. And so on.
Where other players confront laborious detail, Arrau finds color and grandeur garlanding a narrative thread that he spins with compelling poetry—e.g., the heavily freighted melody of “Vision” eschews its customary lurch to emerge singing, singing... enthusiastically recommended.
-- Adrian Corleonis, FANFARE [7/2008, reviewing the Transcendental Etudes]
Made over 1969-70, when Arrau was in his late 60s, these takes capture the moment when a phenomenal technique was beginning to falter, though the artist had probably never been so completely in control of what he wished to say. His interpretations are large, powerful, and detailed— leisurely but never wayward. At 19 minutes, for instance the Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude may seem self-indulgent, but Arrau never loses the singing line which holds it together, while climactic moments attain a cumulative power lacking in streamlined readings. The peroration is whelming—grand and grandly lingering. Waldesrauschen is a gentle spring murmur, while the gnomes of Gnomenreigen seem a bit hesitant in their frolic. Vallée d 'Obermann limns a deep malaise gradually but grandly relieved. Indeed, Arrau's interpretations are keyed to grandeur, capped by the massive, titanically striving Sonata, volcanic and volatile by turns.
-- Adrian Corleonis [5/2002, reviewing the Piano Sonata, Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude, Waldesrauschen, Gnomenreigen, and Vallée dobermann] Read less