Claudio Arrau

The Final Sessions [Box Set]

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There is a lot here that was plainly out of Claudio Arrau's league by this point in his career. But give the guy a break: he was in his late eighties when he made the recordings on these six discs. Not that this repertoire is all that tough -- the Bach selections are of the B flat major Partita variety and not the Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue variety, and the Debussy is of the Suite Bergamasque variety and not the Études variety. Even so, Arrau does blow some passages fairly seriously -- he even loses his way a few times in the Allemande of the B flat Partita -- and he does take some pieces unbelievably slowly -- the closing Gigue of the B flat Partita is taken at about half the standard tempo. But granted that Arrau was technically playing out of his league, there are other questions to consider: to wit, how is Arrau's glorious tone and how are Arrau's judicious interpretations? And the answers are that, within certain obvious limitations, his tone was never better, and without any limitations, his interpretations were never deeper. His Debussy may be relatively simple -- what could be simpler than Clare de lune? -- but his tone is absolutely luminous -- and Schubert may not be the toughest works out there -- the Moments musicaux could be played by most second-year students -- but his interpretations are full of the wisdom of years at the keyboard. While this set is clearly not intended as an introduction to the art of Claudio Arrau -- for that, try one of the volumes devoted to him in Philips' Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century series -- anyone who loves his playing or who loves great piano playing will have to hear this set. Philips' digital piano sound is absolutely transparent yet unquestionably present.

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