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.
Claudio Arrau recorded these concertos twice for Philips, the present performances in 1963, and then again in 1980 with Colin Davis and the Boston Symphony. There's very little to choose between them. Tempos are almost identical, and contrary to what one might expect, the slow movement of the Schumann concerto is actually a bit faster in the later version. Arrau's way with the music is wholly characteristic of the man: serious, even reverential (at the beginning of the Schumann), and played with drop-dead gorgeous tone. The result enhances the stature of both works, but the Grieg in particular. The climax of the finale has an epic grandeur without a hint of bombast that you simply won't find in any other performance. Dohnányi's accompaniments are also distinguished: he lets Arrau lead but isn't afraid to permit the orchestra to assert itself where necessary; and of course the playing of the Concertgebouw is top-notch. If you haven't heard Arrau in this music, it really doesn't matter which of his recordings you wind up with, but do try to get at least one of them.
Two generous, aristocratic musicians, both of Latin origin, join forces for these magnificent performances of Brahms’ piano concertos. Claudio Arrau spent a substantial period in Berlin, and through his teacher Martin Krause had a line to Franz Liszt, while Carlo Maria Giulini’s relationship with Austro-German music was deepened by his years as a viola player in Rome’s Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, performing under such conductors as Wilhelm Furtwängler, Otto Klemperer and Bruno Walter.
"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."