Claudio Arrau, who played a demanding all-Beethoven program Tuesday at Ambassador Auditorium, continues to be a pianist of serious, old-style virtuosity. And, at 83, the enduring Chilean musician shows few signs of diminishing technique.
Like others of his ilk--Serkin and Milstein, for instance--he no longer strides on stage with a sure gait. His steps are slow, small and tentative. He is slightly bent. Disturbed by the glare of the houselights, he has to squint at the audience in acknowledging its applause.
But once seated at the piano, he leaves no doubt regarding his authority. Immersing himself in a somewhat different program than had been scheduled for the November date he was forced to cancel, Arrau obviously was at home. The music that has become the stuff of his soul over the course of more than 60 years flowed from him like the gospel of some ancient orator.
True, there was some blurring in fast passages of the early Sonata No. 7 in D (Opus 10, No. 3) and some inexactitudes in the alternating rhythms and some contrasts within a movement that remained less than sharply telling.
But Arrau always was a generalist, as opposed to a musician bent on discovering the individual crevices Beethoven allows. And, considering that an opening work functions to some extent as a warm-up, the playing proved a little more flawed than the rest of the program.
Even here, however--as in the "Appassionata," "Les Adieux" and the "Waldstein" that followed--Arrau laid out Beethoven's timeless testaments with a sense of order and mellow accounting. What's more, he capitalized on the plush tone of the German Steinway, without exceeding philosophical limits or jeopardizing profundity.
The somewhat Romantic style he customarily employs made sense, so long as one could value such an all-purpose robust approach. Otherwise, the highest affirmation Arrau brought to the Bonn master was the constancy of voice and the uninterrupted flow from section to section.
But the sizeable audience may not have known which sonata it was hearing. Arrau reversed the order of the "Waldstein" and "Appassionata" without mentioning that fact. Adding to the confusion, the printed program contained excellent notes by the pianist for two of the four works, nothing for the others.
Disconcerting also was the mass coughing. And curious was the number of binoculars-users sitting close up in this small hall and expecting exalted Beethoven--not Liszt, mind you--to be illuminated by the sight of moving fingers. A case of TV conditioning, misplaced.