"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."
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.
From the notes: Claudio Arrau [1903-1991] has perhaps the widest performing repertoire of any pianist in history, but four composers were central to it: Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin and Schumann. These composers he played in concerts and recordings all his life, reaching ever greater depths in interpretation as the years went by."… "Arrau's interpretations of Schumann and Chopin stress the darker, more complex and dramatic sides of the composers' personalities." Notes by Peter Warwick
"Arrau is the complete pianist. He can revel in the keyboard for its own pianistic sake, representing to us the instrument's range and power, but he can also go beyond piano playing as we are led by his art to the secret chambers of the creative imagination."
– Sir Neville Cardus (Guardian, London)
This "live" recording is taken from an Arrau concert in Italy, 1963. The Brahms is staggering, the Ravel completely transcendant (The Scarbo is faster than Argerich's!) and the Liszt selections played to hair-raising perfection.
Of all the composers Claudio Arrau recorded extensively, Liszt was perhaps the most central, the most essential and the most personal. Trained as a youth in prewar Berlin by a Liszt pupil, Arrau's commanding virtuosity and compelling authority is clearly a continuation of the grand Romantic manner in general and of Liszt in particular and on these six discs are dozens of performances that speak with the power of tradition infused with strength of true belief. From the glittering cascades of Les jeux d'eaux à la Villa d'Este to the harrowing sonorities of Gnomenreigen and from the radiant arpeggios of Bénédiction de Dieu dans la solitude to the hushed intimacy of Liebestraum, Arrau knows Liszt's music with the fervor of a prophet and the passion of a lover. While it's true Arrau was in his seventies and eighties when he made these recordings and that time had mellowed his virtuosity, it's also true that time had matured his interpretations. Some listeners may prefer their Liszt players more vigorous, but few could ask for a more sensuous Liszt player. Including two performances of Liszt's Sonata in B minor, one an almost youthfully ardent recording from 1970 and the other a slower but more penetrating recording from 1985, provides a wonderful way to compare Arrau's approach to the composer's masterpiece. Philips' stereo sound is so realistic one can sometimes hear the pianist shift on the bench.