Claudio Arrau was past his prime when, in the mid-1980s, he offered these final thoughts on the late sonatas, but he was still a sovereign interpreter, with a sense of line and grasp of form few other exponents of this music have possessed in comparable degree. Where an interpreter like Pollini emphasizes the energy in Beethoven’s writing for the piano, Arrau conveys its mass, giving these sonatas a symphonic treatment.
The young Claudio Arrau made records in Berlin and London which reveal the lasting qualities of his pianism: a sovereign technical command, a deep patience and a gravitation towards weighty matters, enriched by his study with ‘philosopher pianists’ such as Busoni and Martin Krause, that resulted in these profound and impassioned recordings of Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin, most of which have not previously appeared on CD, and all of them newly remastered for this tribute to a master pianist of the 20th century.
Bernard Haitink conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in Brahms’s great orchestral works, including the complete symphonies. The concertos feature three great soloists: pianist Claudio Arrau, violinist Henryk Szeryng, and cellist Janos Starker. "No one, I trust, will deny that Arrau has lived with, wrestled with, and in a truly terribly way ’known’ the D minor Concerto for more years than most of us can consciously recall. Where contemporary pianists have often tended to refine or domesticate the concerto, withdrawing it from the world of heroic endeavour, Arrau has always done the reverse. No pianist, apart possibly from Serkin in his several recordings, has communicated so formidably the work’s scope: its seriousness and its anxious, tragic mood. Often Arrau makes free with the text. But the vision is huge, the technique astonishing. Haitink is a worthy accompanist."
Nothing could be more different than Arrau's approach to Mozart even in the early stages of his career. Certainly, other pianists in those days gave full value to the dramatic power of the minor-key sonatas. But very few approached with the sheer volcanic force he brought to those bass octaves and no-holds-barred style in seemingly less serious works.
"Arrau's Chopin – now available in a six-CD box (Philips 432 303-2) as part of Philips's Arrau Edition – is as far from moonstruck "sentimentality" as any Chopin ever was. But no performance of the Preludes is more sentimental, in Schiller's sense, than the version Arrau recorded for Philips in 1973. Its premise – that the cycle is a grand tragedy, the darkest thing Chopin wrote – is unmistakable. Even the prefatory C-major Prelude heaves with orgasmic rubatos – more weight, it seems, than the music can possibly bear. And yet, as Arrau packs each small berth with a world of feeling, the weight grips and holds. At times, the sheer density of emotion can seem suffocatingly intense. The Prelude No. 22, a Stygian descent, is surely Hades; the plunging scales of No. 24 rip the thread of life."
Claudio Arrau is widely considered by many to be one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. This collection contains many of Chopin works including the rarely performed pieces for Piano and Orchestra such as Rondo a la krakowiak, Fantasy on Polish Airs and Variations on Mozart's La ci darem la mano. Like most of Arrau's works, the Chopin is played very seriously, at slower tempo, but nevertheless is superb. The Preludes, Nocturnes are recommended the most, but this collection is a must have for any Arrau fan.
These recordings reflect how Arrau’s textually scrupulous yet highly personal mastery of many styles had matured and ripened, while retaining the fire and ardency of his youth. Arrau’s Mozart, Weber and Chopin probe beyond the music’s surface charm, as do the luminous and full-bodied Spanish and French Impressionist selections. Cumulative momentum and thoughtful detail characterize Arrau’s Beethoven and Schumann while the extraordinary technical finish of his Liszt transcends mere virtuosity and bravura.