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ClassicsOnline Home » STRAUSS, R.: Burleske / SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor / Carnaval (Arrau) (1939-46)
This third Naxos volume of Claudio Arrau’s recordings from the 1930s and 1940s includes two performances set down in an incredibly short period of time. Richard Strauss’s Burleske was recorded at a morning session on 13th April 1946 at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, followed immediately by Weber’s Konzertstück (Naxos 8.111263). The 1944 recording of Schumann’s Piano Concerto was recorded in one session of one hour and 45 minutes, with the first side of the second movement and both sides of the last movement done in single takes. The 1939 recording of Schumann’s Carnaval is one of Arrau’s finest recordings. A contemporary reviewer stated that, ‘This magnificent recording shows convincingly that Carnaval is one of the masterpieces of piano literature and that Arrau is a great pianist… The recording itself is of the highest quality, better far than any record previously made by Arrau, and the performance – as I ought to have made clear by now – is of supreme artistic value and completely satisfying in every respect.’
By David Denton
Great Pianists: Claudio Arrau (1903-1991)
Robert Schumann and Richard Strauss (1939-1946 Recordings)
Claudio Arrau was born in Chillán, Chile in 1903. Within a year of Arrau’s birth his father died and his mother had to give piano lessons to support her three children. After Claudio made his début at the age of five she moved the family to Santiago so that he could study with Bindo Paoli. By 1911 the Chilean government had decided to fund Arrau’s training in Berlin. The greatest influence on him came from Liszt’s pupil Martin Krause (1853–1918) with whom Arrau studied at the Stern Conservatory for six years between 1912 and 1918. Krause became a father substitute, guiding Arrau not only in music, but in art, literature and opera. The boy had little schooling, and Krause oversaw most aspects of his life and development. At the piano Krause laid a technical foundation based not only on physical stamina and endurance but also on technique being the means to a musical interpretation, and this supported Arrau throughout his long career.
The eleven-year-old Arrau caused a sensation at his Berlin début in 1914, and was only twelve when he played Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E flat with Arthur Nikisch in Dresden. Unfortunately Krause died when Arrau was at the vulnerable age of fifteen. He never had another teacher after Krause’s death, applying his master’s methods to any new repertoire he chose to learn. He toured Europe, made his début with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Karl Muck, played under Mengelberg and Furtwängler at this time as well as returning to South America, giving concerts in Argentina and Chile. It would appear that Arrau made his London début in May 1920 with Nellie Melba at the Albert Hall but his début tour of the United States in 1923 was not a great success.
Arrau played in Russia in 1929 and 1930 and from the early 1930s he developed vast recital programmes, relying on the stamina and endurance instilled by Krause. In 1933 he gave fifteen recitals and had four orchestral dates in Mexico City, and in 1935 he performed twelve recitals in Berlin, consisting entirely of solo works by Bach. In 1936 he gave five evenings devoted to Mozart, and in 1937 four evenings to Schubert and Weber. The following year he played the complete sonatas of Beethoven in Mexico City.
During the mid-1940s Arrau was recording for RCA Victor in America. At a morning recording session on 13th April 1946 at Orchestra Hall in Chicago Arrau recorded the Burleske by Richard Strauss for piano and orchestra with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conductor Désiré Defauw. Two takes of each of the four sides were recorded and immediately following this they recorded the Konzertstück in F minor, Op. 79 by Carl Maria von Weber (8.111263). Defauw (1885-1960), a Belgian, was appointed conductor of the Chicago Symphony in 1943, but left after only four seasons and subsequently was conductor of the Symphony Orchestra in Gary, Indiana from 1950 to 1958.
The Strauss Burleske is an early work, initially a Scherzo for piano and orchestra, written in 1885-86. At this time Strauss was assistant court conductor at Meiningen to Hans von Bülow, who helped his career by taking an interest in his compositions. The Burleske was written for von Bülow to perform but Bülow thought the work ‘unpianistic’. In a letter to Brahms of January 1891 Bülow wrote that, ‘Strauss’s Burleske decidedly has some genius in it, but in other respects it is horrifying.’ Strauss put the work on one side, but after meeting Liszt’s pupil Eugene d’Albert (1864-1932) took the work up again. D’Albert encouraged Strauss to make some cuts and changes to the piano part and the first performance was given at a concert with the première of his tone poem Tod und Verklärung in June 1890; d’Albert was soloist and dedicatee of the work. Thinking the Burleske an early, immature work, Strauss was in two minds about having the work published and this did not happen until 1894. The work is rarely heard today but in the past has been played by many pianists. It was recorded by Elly Ney in 1932; Wilhelm Backhaus played it in London in 1906 and 1932, and Arrau played it in London in October 1958 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Adrian Boult. In March 1945 he played it at Carnegie Hall in New York with George Szell and recorded it a year later.
A year earlier Arrau recorded Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54. As with the recording of the Strauss Burleske, RCA Victor used a public venue as recording studio. At the Masonic Temple in Detroit, Michigan, Arrau was partnered with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Karl Krueger. The concerto was recorded in one session of one hour and 45 minutes and on average, most sides were recorded three times. The first side of the second movement and both sides of the last movement, however, were recorded in single takes.
Whilst in Britain in April 1939 Arrau went to the studios of EMI where he recorded a number of works over two days for Parlophone. The main work he recorded was Schumann’s Carnaval, Op. 9, and this is one of Arrau’s finest recordings. After a performance of the work at Carnegie Hall in February 1941 Noel Strauss wrote in The New York Times, ‘This reviewer never has heard a more absolutely satisfying or more finely unified performance of the Schumann Carnaval. Mr. Arrau was in his element here, and his presentation of each of the many components of the work could not easily be surpassed in play of light and shade, fertility of fancy, or beauty of tone. The whole composition, moreover, was led to a climax of richly resounding forcefulness at the pompously delivered concluding March of the Davidsbündler. It was all sincere, sensitive and individual without a trace of exaggeration or eccentricity.’ In the New York Herald Tribune Robert Lawrence wrote, ‘The finest performance of Schumann’s Carnaval that I have ever heard – and the hazard of such a generalization is fully realised – was given at Carnegie Hall last night by Claudio Arrau, Chilean pianist, who appeared here with a large degree of success earlier in the season... In the hands of a lesser pianist than Mr Arrau, Schumann’s Carnaval might possibly emerge as long and rhetorical. But when played with the full beauty of last night’s performance, it holds the listener through its combined fantasy and unified structure… The peculiar aura that is Schumann’s, the spurts of whimsicality, defiance, caprice which mark this music, were all ineluctably present.’ Fortunately, all of Arrau’s attributes in performance were repeated in the recording studio. A contemporary reviewer of the recording stated that, ‘This magnificent recording shows convincingly that Carnaval is one of the masterpieces of piano literature and that Arrau is a great pianist.’ One can only echo the writer’s sentiments when he ends his review, ‘The recording itself is of the highest quality, better far than any record previously made by Arrau, and the performance – as I ought to have made clear by now – is of supreme artistic value and completely satisfying in every respect.’
From the early 1940s onward Arrau’s career was hugely successful for the next four decades. He performed the complete sonatas of Beethoven in London and New York, and continued to tour the world. By the early 1980s his amazing stamina enabled him to tour Europe, the United States, Brazil and Japan, by which time he was approaching the age of eighty. In 1984 he returned to perform in Chile after refusing to play there for seventeen years owing to the political regime, and died in 1991 in the Austrian town of Mürzzuschlag.
© 2007 Jonathan Summers
The Strauss Burleske and the Schumann Piano Concerto were transferred from postwar RCA Victor pressings. All four sides of the Strauss, as well as Sides 5 and 8 of the Schumann Concerto (the beginning of the second movement and the end of the third) were only issued in sonically compromised dubbings. British Parlophone shellacs were the source for Schumann’s Carnaval.
R. STRAUSS: Burleske in D minor for piano and orchestra
Recorded 13 April 1946 in Orchestra Hall, Chicago
Matrices: D6-RC-5338 through 5341
First issued as RCA Victor 12-0279 and 12-0280 in album M-1216
SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
Recorded 4 December 1944 in the Masonic Temple, Detroit
Matrices: D4-RC-656 through 663
First issued as RCA Victor 12-8852 through 12-8855 in album M-1009
SCHUMANN: Carnaval, Op. 9
Recorded 3 and 4 April 1939 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London
Matrices: XE 9725-1, 9726-1, 9727-3, 9728-2, 9729-2 and 9730-2
First issued as Parlophone R 20448 through 20450
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STRAUSS, R.: Burleske / SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto i...