Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Sonatas Nos. 5, 8, 14, 17, and 18.
No. 4 in c
Claudio Arrau (pn)
MUSIC & ARTS 1274, mono (2 CDs: 100:04) Live: Tanglewood 7/21/1964
Claudio Arrau was one of those pianists who, you could say if you chose to be unkind, was adept at all styles of music without really being a master of any. Indeed, over his extremely long career he was sometimes slighted or taken for granted because his repertoire was
eclectic, and in the early part of his career especially (the 1930s through the 1950s), specialists were often more highly prized than those who were versatile. Nevertheless, he did carve out a niche for himself, especially as a Chopin and Beethoven pianist. These live 1964 performances from Tanglewood show that, at one point at least, he was also outstanding in Mozart.
Of course, these recordings will fail to please the historically informed listener. Arrau plays a modern piano in a no-holds-barred style, the sound of which is far from the dry sound of the Stein pianofortes favored by Mozart himself. (His own comment of praise for them was, according to the notes, “When I strike hard, I can keep my finger on the note or raise it, but the sound ceases the moment I have finished producing it.”) In certain places, particularly the fast movements but also in the
s, Arrau’s playing of Mozart here has a certain kinship, to my mind, with Glenn Gould’s in that it sings and has a lively rhythmic pulse, the difference being that Arrau does not rush certain movements unduly as Gould was fond of doing.
Arrau keeps his touch impeccably light in the
s, and constantly varies his touch and tone color subtly throughout these performances. Annotator Bernard Jacobson describes the performances as being “great fun.” I can see his point, though I think that’s carrying it a bit far. Although I liked these performances very much, only occasionally (as in the
finale of the Sonata No. 8) did I feel that the word “fun” applied to Arrau’s approach here. Nevertheless, the Chilean pianist was in a particularly genial frame of mind for this concert. Yes, I think that’s the right word for these performances: genial. They have great lightness and sunshine in them, but also seriousness when called for.
Comparing Arrau’s performances of these sonatas and the
to Brautigam’s recordings, I was amazed at how similar the two musicians are in approach despite the very different instruments they use; but of course, I have the utmost respect and love for the Brautigam cycle as a whole anyway, so my personal bias here is easy to understand. Naturally, the fortepiano used by Brautigam has nowhere near the range of dynamics or color as Arrau’s instrument (I would assume a Baldwin, since they are credited for supplying the photo of Arrau playing on the front cover of the booklet), which is especially telling in the
Here, there is a marked difference in approach between the two pianists, undoubtedly conditioned by their respective instruments, which is fine. Brautigam is undoubtedly closer to what Mozart himself could do, and possibly preferred in terms of a sound profile, but I find Arrau’s performance not only musically convincing in its own right but quite fascinating. He even makes the pauses in the music meaningful, and in the faster portion of the
his range of color and touch is truly astonishing. Note, particularly, the broken, descending arpeggios, which he makes musically meaningful in a specifically dramatic fashion; this approach is even quite different from that of one of his near contemporaries, Alfred Brendel, who I also liked very much as a Mozartian. Near the end of the
, note how Arrau creates tension and drama solely through coloration and the way he varies his touch on the keyboard, never once overstepping the bounds of good taste yet holding the listener spellbound. He also does something of the same sort in the
of the Sonata No. 14, using very subtle tenutos in the descending runs and, in fact, throughout the movement in general. This is truly masterful playing.
Arrau continues his magic on the second disc, unfortunate only because of its brevity, though I did not feel that his performance of the
of Sonata No. 18 was particularly varied in tone.
My sole complaint of this set is that, with the playing time of the second CD being so short, this should have been a two-for-the-price-of-one deal. A list price of $30 seems a bit high for it, but if you are an Arrau fan or a Mozart lover who wants various performances in your collection, this previously unreleased concert is a must. For a live concert from 1964, the sonics are simply terrific.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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