chopin arrau warner

Déjà Review: this review was first published in March 2007 and the recording is still available.

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor, Op. 38 (1844)
Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49 (1841)
Carl Maria von Weber (1786-1826)
Konzertstück in F minor, Op. 79 (1821)
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Andante and Rondo capriccioso, Op. 14
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Philharmonia Orchestra/Alceo Galliera
rec. 1951 (Mendelssohn) and 1960 (Chopin), No. 3 Studio, Abbey Road, London; 1960 (Weber), No. 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London). ADD
Originally reviewed as EMI Classics release
Warner Classics 5628842 [72]

Claudio Arrau’s Chopin enjoys something of classic status, and here are two perfect examples of why this is so. The Sonata has an identifiable rightness to it from the very first note. Steeped in Arrau’s experience – not to mention the tradition he represents – the pianist presents the work with a seemingly contradictory mixture of restraint and power. His sonority is deep indeed, yet his lines can be limpid and there is a seamless flow to the first movement. The transcendental coda finds everything in perfect balance.

To this essential meeting of restraint and power, Arrau adds fantasy in the Scherzo. He scampers with a facility to match the very best, but that core strength is still there. Most impressive of all is the calm stillness of the Largo, the perfect foil for the magisterial finale. The 1960 recording seems very slightly shallow but still conveys every nuance of the Master’s playing.

The Fantasy opens with huge gravitas. Arrau’s structural grasp convinces one while listening that this interpretation is without parallel. This is huge, rich playing and is an interpretation that reveals more the more one hears it. There is no sense of rush, ever, giving the chords just after the five-minute work real weight – they immediately precede the march.

The Weber begins with the Philharmonia’s winds on top form. Clearly something special is going on; Arrau matches the orchestra – the strings have a silken sheen to them – with his characteristic warm tone and a true sense of fantasy. The many moods of this piece are expertly presented, from the simply sweet to the overtly celebrational. Arrau positively sparkles in the final section (Presto giocoso). The articulation is jaw-dropping – this final section is worth the price of the disc alone. Only a slight muddiness begins to inform the recording; track 9, around 3:10-15 – surprising, given that the producer of the Weber was Walter Legge.

Finally, some Mendelssohn that can only be described as miraculous. The cantabile of the Andante has to be heard to be believed; the ensuing elfin right-hand staccato in the main section is not only a delight but also an object lesson in technique. The virtuoso élan of the final pages brings to rest what must surely be one of the jewels of the EMI GROCs.

Colin Clarke

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