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Reviews: Chopin: Complete Preludes, Schumann: Papillons - Claudio Arrau

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Reviews: 4

Site review by Polly Nomial June 2, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
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Site review by ramesh June 7, 2007
Performance:   Sonics:  
This PentaTone remastering incorporates most of the pieces from two Arrau LPs released in the mid-1970s. The SACD contains the full LP contents of the 26 Chopin Preludes, but only Papillons from a Schumann anthology which originally also included Opp 15, 19 and 28. Arrau was born in 1903. These performances, recorded in the Amsterdam Concertgebouw between 1973 and 1974 are typical of his refulgent and majestic late style, without much of the ponderousness which afflicted most of his recordings from the late 1970s onwards. During the mid-1970s, when I first started buying records, a clutch of Chopin Preludes appeared from the keyboard lions of the day. These included Ashkenazy, Argerich and Pollini. All three, which I bought with scarce pocket money, are magnificent, virile interpretations, which placed Arrau's deeply considered performances slightly in the shade. I never heard his performances until they were released in one of the three Arrau sets in Philips' quixotic 'Great Pianists of the 20th Century' series. The fact that these performances were considered worthy to be included in this historic anthology speaks volumes for the calibre and representativeness of Arrau's interpretations. This CD makes an interesting comparison to the PentaTone pure DSD remastering of the SACD.

Interpretatively, Arrau is the polar opposite to Argerich. Where the Argentinian is quicksilver, agile, explosive and barnstorming, her Chilean champion is ruminative and powerful, with a rich, golden piano sonority. As a rough generalisation, Arrau is most idiomatic in the slower Preludes, Argerich in the fleeter ones, with Pollini and Ashkenazy occupying a most distinguished middle ground. For my taste, the rubato which Argerich and Ashkenazy deploy sounds more flowing than Arrau's or Pollini's. Whereas Argerich presented the pieces as brilliant tonal miniatures, banded on the LP in groups of two or three, what impresses in Arrau's recording after several hearings is that he conceives the 24 Preludes as an organic entity, with an unmistakeable dramatic trajectory from the first piece to the last. This is some compensation for his overly sober performances of the famous C sharp minor prelude, which falls flat on its face, the B flat minor, and some of the other earlier ones. While it is exhilarating to hear Argerich's hyperkinetic right hand almost leave both her left hand and keyboard altogether, it is this slight lack of pianistic outrageousness which detracts from Arrau's conception of these works as pure pianism, while retaining its integrity as musicianship. Self-display and a tinge of vulgarity for Arrau are foreign concepts in the interpretation of this Polish master. Argerich is definitely the more memorable, but honours are split for artistic satisfaction.

I was surprised how the PentaTone remastering gave the entire performance a lift. There is a Universal Japan SACD of Arrau's famous Liszt B minor, a 24 bit 96 kHz transfer, but this Chopin remastering is even better. The midbass and lower treble generally sounds rather solid, even congested in many Arrau CD transfers, as though the pianist had surreptitously added another line of counterpoint in this region of the keyboard. The SACD clarifies the presentation wonderfully. Arrau's lowest bass notes now toll like sonorous bells, for instance the beautiful A flat piece, as I imagine they must have sounded in the concert hall. Not only is the part writing clearer, but the general impression is that the performances are quicker, when they obviously aren't.

'Papillons' as an interpretation and recording matches the Chopin. This straightlaced composition isn't a particularly popular Schumann work, although it has its champions, such as Arrau and Richter. Arrau is lavish with repeats, which goes some way to explain the 16 minutes he takes over this small Schumann work. For instance, he observes this at the start of No 2 to incorporate a textual variant only in the repeat.

One of the best of the PentaTone reissue series so far.

Review by terence April 23, 2007 (8 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Very fine re-mastering of this quadraphonic original, providing warm, well-balanced piano sound - typical Pentatone high quality.

The performances are typically Arrau - deeply considered, lovely rich tone, fundamentally serious in outlook.

I personally find the effect just a touch ponderous, the rubato, for instance, not arising as naturally out of the music as with Rubinstein.

For me there is also one very big drawback - the excellence of the remastering highlights Arrau's intensely irritating habit of sniffing like a rabbit while he plays the music. It is clearly audible on my system throughout the recording.

I know from experience that this kind of thing affects some listeners more than others, so I'll grade as though it isn't a major factor. For me it is, though, and if you're at all sensitive to e.g. Colin Davis's grunting, Glenn Gould's moaning etc. I'd advice listening to this disc if possible before you buy it. If I had done, I wouldn't have purchased.

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Review by JJ May 28, 2007 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
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"Je ne pense jamais aux Préludes comme des compositions isolables. Ils se répondent l'un l'autre. Et quand j'ai fini l'un, j'ai besoin de jouer celui qui suit. En un sens, ils forment un résumé du monde de Chopin. Avec cette alternance de lumière et d'ombres". C'est ainsi que le pianiste chilien Claudio Arrau définissait les Préludes du compositeur polonais. Et il ajoutait alors : "Ce n'est qu'à partir du prélude en si bémol mineur (N°16) qu'on sent que l'approche vitale, l'approche essentielle est tragique. Les Préludes paisibles, positifs, ne paraissent plus que comme remémorations de ce qui a rendu la vie supportable". Le label Pentatone redonne ici un coup de jeune à l'enregistrement que Claudio Arrau fit de ces œuvres en 1973. La technologie DSD restitue la chaleur et la profondeur des basses du piano du maître que le report en CD avait supprimé. Ainsi, toutes les fréquences du master analogique original 8 pistes retrouvent leur place. Inutile de revenir ici sur ce qui demeure une des plus grandes interprétations des Préludes de Chopin. Depuis plus de trente ans, tous les spécialistes l’ont maintes et maintes fois commenté. Pour les accompagner, Papillons Op. 2 de Schumann nous offre également une référence sous les doigts magiques d'Arrau. Une véritable résurrection sonore et musicale.

Jean-Jacques Millo

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