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Swapping Horowitz for Arrau

As readers of this blog may be aware, my son Bernie is a diehard Vladimir Horowitz enthusiast who has forced me to my knees (“Horowitz on Horowitz on Horowitz on Horowitz: A Recantation”) – more or less.
Bernie recently restored the “Vladimir Horowitz Website,” which had been taken offline.
He continues to collect obscure concert and studio recordings in pursuit of a comprehensive library of Horowitz performances spanning six decades. He regularly assaults me with putative new evidence of Horowitz’s genius. “Not another Liszt B minor Ballade!” I groan to no avail. “No more Carmen Fantasies!”
Notwithstanding jibes and insults from Bernie and his cohorts, my allegiance to Claudio Arrau remains intact. Far and away, he is the pianist from my own lifetime who has given me the deepest pleasure. That pleasure has now been renewed, ironically, as a by-product of my son’s obsession. He has traded recordings from his Horowitz arsenal for several rare concert recordings by Arrau, including a desert-island Brahms B-flat Concerto.
Arrau owned the Brahms D minor Piano Concerto. He commanded a singular Brahms sonority – the fullness of cushioned tone, the fullness of texture and song he maintained even in the knottiest of Brahmsian ecstasies were his alone. His studio recordings of this concerto, with Giulini and Haitink, are nothing. But the concerto long remained in his repertory. I treasure memories of live Carnegie Hall performances, and possess even better performances: live recordings with Rafael Kubelik and the Bavarian Radio Orchestra, and with Robert Palmer and the Atlanta Symphony.
The B-flat Concerto, however, is a work Arrau less performed, and had stopped performing in the years I knew him (writing my Conversations with Arrau). The studio recordings, again with Giulini and Haitink, are stillborn. I had previously encountered on CD a live Arrau Brahms B-flat unidiomatically accompanied by Charles Munch, and another that came too late in his career to catch fire.
Bernie has found the Arrau Brahms B-flat Concerto I have long dreamt of hearing, the performance of a lifetime. The conductor is Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, the orchestra is the Pittsburgh Symphony, the year is 1974. The pianist’s warmth of tone and sentiment is here memorably returned. Today’s Pittsburgh Symphony is a great Germanic orchestra whose tonal depth and dark sonic coloration set it apart from other American bands. And so it sounds playing Brahms in 1974. Today’s Pittsburgh Symphony enjoys an exceptionally appreciative audience. And the audience response to 1974 Arrau’s Brahms B-flat is itself memorable. The first movement ends on such a high note of exaltation that only creatures of stone could fail to react. One hears the usual coughing and shuffling between movements – and then, some seven seconds after the movement’s end, the applause begins. This knowing violation of misguided rules of decorum – no clapping between movements – is of course unsupported. But after the second movement, a defiant minority bursts into loud applause the instant the seething, accelerating coda (unique in my experience of the work) pounds to a close. A precipitous ovation interrupts the finale’s final chord, sealing the sense of occasion.

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