Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.11
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Claudio Arrau (piano)
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Otto Klemperer [Chopin]
Christoph von Dohnányi
Recorded 25 October 1954 (Chopin) and 6 April 1959 in Saal 1, Funkhaus, Cologne
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5045
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If Otto Klemperer isn’t an obvious choice to conduct a Chopin piano concerto, then his muscular approach and weighty deliberation suits well the written-second, published-first E minor example. What is more, such a tactic is ideal for Claudio Arrau’s magnificent and searching interpretation: here are two musicians whose focus on the music they performed was absolute; no need for extravagance or showiness, just an unvarnished yet penetrating view of the piece in question. Not that Claudio Arrau (1903-91) is heavy-handed; he is though serious, in the best sense of the word, and avoids prettifying or wallowing in Chopin’s music; that said, there is no lack of delicacy and affection. His shaping of the first movement’s lovely second subject is very touching (and already given an airing in the orchestral preamble and affectionately fashioned – rare in the 1950s when this section was regularly cut, possibly in deference to a pianist keen to be heard). Nothing so autocratic from Klemperer and Arrau who have respect for the score, the conductor encouraging a bold, shapely and detailed orchestral response, the pianist communing with the music, not using it as a plaything. The large-scale opening Allegro is ideally maestoso, as Chopin requests, Arrau’s playing powerful in its charge and fire, and also sensitive to Chopin’s fine and ornate lace. The ‘Romance’ that is the slow movement has breadth and beauty without stasis and sentimentality (and some might be surprised at the sheen on the strings from an orchestra under Klemperer’s control – enough to momentarily wonder if it is him!). The finale brings Arrau’s niftiest and deftest playing, the conductor in full support; episodes are persuasively integrated, the coda is scintillating, and the final chord enjoys a triumphantly ringing trumpet.
Nearly five years on, Arrau is found working on Beethoven with the young, not-yet-30 Christoph von Dohnányi (born September 1929). He is fully in accord with Arrau’s generous, thoughtful and poetic style that is signalled by the pianist’s sonorous opening chord, the solo instrument introducing this most-precious of piano concertos. Arrau is both imperious and humane in character – illuminating the music’s recesses – Dohnányi offering lucid support. The first movement’s crowning glory is the cadenza (the more-often-played of Beethoven’s two), Arrau peering deeply into its potential. The slow movement (and it is ‘slow’!) brings stern strings countered by the purest pianism. How can you argue with that? Bit by bit the orchestra becomes collegiate in a profound coming-together. In the finale, Arrau judicious blending of fleetness and probing is an honest counterpart to what has gone before, with something saved for a burst of excitement at the close.
The mono recording is more than perfectly acceptable, tastefully re-mastered to report sonic spaciousness and good balance, and Arrau’s famed depth of tone is done justice to. These are wonderful performances that find Arrau in his prime.