Liszt / Piano Concertos 1 & 2 / Arrau / Davis – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

SUPERB orchestral sound on side one, dramatically better than what you might expect from the typical Philips import pressing. The sound is BIG, rich, clear and present for the first piano concerto. The piano is percussive and weighty, and the strings have lovely texture — this is Top Quality Sound. You know it when you hear it!

We rated side one Super Hot: A++. No other side of any copy in our shootout scored higher. 

Liszt wrote two of the greatest piano concertos of all time and they are both here, played to near perfection by Claudio Arrau.

This is a BRAND NEW Philips LP that we cracked open ourselves and were shocked — SHOCKED — to hear truly wonderful orchestral sound. It’s rich, transparent and spacious in the best Golden Age tradition; remarkably, Philips still knew how to record a piano and orchestra as late as 1979, which just happens to be the date of this recording. Coincidence you say? Not really.

The sound was so good right out of the sleeve that we decided to pull out all the stops and put this one through our extensive cleaning process to make the sound even better, bringing this one up to Demo Disc quality, or at the least something very close to it.

I agree with the writer below that the performance is more deliberate and contemplative than others I have heard. In its defense it should be noted that there are special qualities to the pieces that are revealed at these slower tempi.

If you do not have a favorite performance of either of these works, especially one with this kind of superb sound, you cannot go wrong here. 

This one gets a Top Recommendation from your friends here at Better Records.

Side One

A++. Almost no smear (that’s why the piano is so percussive). Big and clear. Hard to fault really.

Side Two

A to A+, not quite a Hot Stamper for side two I’m sorry to say. The strings are somewhat smeary and the whole affair is opaque. This side sounds much more like what you would expect from Philips, a label that rarely thrills us, sonically anyway. 


Side One

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E Flat

Side Two

Piano Concerto No. 2 in A

Wikipedia on Arrau

Many claimed that his rich, weighty tone lent his interpretations a distinctive voice, some saying it sounded thick and muddy and others praising its rounded tone, saying it sounded as though Arrau were almost playing the organ or “plowing” his “paws” into the “flexible” keyboard. According to American critic Harold Schonberg, Arrau always put “a decidedly romantic piano tone in his interpretations”.[1]

Arrau was an intellectual and a deeply reflective interpreter. He has been in touch with Jung’s psychology since his twenties.

Arrau’s attitude toward music was very serious. He preached fidelity to the score. Although he often played with slower and more deliberate tempi from his middle age, Arrau had a reputation for being a fabulous virtuoso early in his career. According to Joseph Horowitz in his book Conversations With Arrau (1982), many critics feel his overall approach became less spontaneous and more reserved and introspective after the death of his mother, to whom he was extremely close.

Wikipedia on Liszt

The largest and best known portion of Liszt’s music is his original piano work… Liszt’s piano works are usually divided into two classes. On the one hand, there are “original works”, and on the other hand “transcriptions”, “paraphrases” or “fantasies” on works by other composers… Liszt also made piano arrangements of his own instrumental and vocal works. Examples of this kind are the arrangement of the second movement “Gretchen” of his Faust Symphony and the first “Mephisto Waltz” as well as the “Liebesträume No. 3” and the two volumes of his “Buch der Lieder”.