DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Arrau and Brahms: The Two Romantics (1984/2011)

Arrau’s triumphant return to Chile after 17 years absence.

Published on October 3, 2012

Arrau and Brahms: The Two Romantics (1984/2011)

Program: Piano Sonata No. 3 in f, Op. 5; Piano Concerto No. 1 in d, Op. 15
Performers: Claudio Arrau, p./ Santiago Philharmonic Orch./ Juan Pablo Izquierdo
Director: Peter Rosen
Producers: Augustin Arrau, Peter Rosen
Studio: EuroArts 2058658 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: Color 4:3
Audio: PCM stereo
All Regions
Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish
Length: 110 minutes
Rating: **1/2:

In 1984 Chilean pianist Claudio Arrau returned to his homeland to great honor and acclaim for the first time in 17 years. A gala concert was organized featuring the works on this DVD, and it was televised; one of six concerts he performed in eleven days, which were watched by an estimated 80% of Chileans. According to the artist this was the first time that a whole new generation had ever heard him play. For this film—not really a film—Martin Bookspan does the narration.

The choice of Brahms always provided a bit of an enigma with Arrau because his early upbringing was decidedly in the camp of Liszt, due mainly to his studies with Martin Krause at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin, who had been a student of Liszt. That composer played a large role in his life as a performer, though Arrau’s tastes were decidedly catholic and exploratory, turning in fabulous readings of Debussy and Schoenberg, and even reportedly was preparing to record Pierre Boulez’s Third Piano Sonata at the time of his death.

Arrau is a “strict constructionist” so to speak, though no less an authority like Harold Schoenberg always considered his interpretations to be “tinged with romanticism.” I don’t hear that in this concert; these readings are quite straightforward and even uneventful in terms of big moments. The sonata is deliberate and even cautious in the first movement, and there is a lot of fumbling at the keys with the consequent missed notes. The other movements are more secure, and the long slow movement is very nicely done, though this is far and away from the most desirable of interpretations. Likewise the concerto—while Arrau, curiously, is much more secure technically here, is rather flaccid and lackluster, the anemic playing of the Santiago Philharmonic working to hamper the proceedings at every turn. The sound in the concerto is also not as vibrant as in the sonata, even though they were both recorded at the same time and in the same place. Filming is standard TV fare for the time, not very creative but utterly undistracted as well. This is interesting as an occasional piece, but musically not nearly as important as Arrau’s many standard recordings.

—Steven Ritter




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