This is the first recorded performance of the Brahms D minor concerto from Arrau, and while he called it "awful" and "much too fast," I think it's terrific. Arrau's interpretive approach evolved over time, marked by a slowing down, not by necessity, but because of his convictions about how the music should be played. The timings of his three commercial recordings are representative of this:
Cameron (1947) 21:19, 14:01; 12:06
Giulini (1961-EMI) 23:30; 15:06; 12:55
Haitink (1969-Philips) 24:10; 15:42; 12:51
In the twenty-two years from Cameron to Haitink, Arrau's D minor concerto had grown from 47 minutes and 26 seconds to 52 minutes and 43 seconds. While timings alone can be misleading. they do illustrate the tightness of Arrau's earlier conception. What timings can't communicate are the ultra-rhetorical hesitations, insertions and gloominess that came with Giulini and Haitink. (It's worth noting that Leon Fleisher's classic account of the D minor concerto with George Szell is very close to the pace of Arrau/Cameron at 21:19; 14:35 & 10:53 for the three movements respectively.)
Arrau's rejection of the Cameron recording was more-or-less total: "It's sort of exciting, no? In a way. In a superficial way. But the spiritual values of the D-minor Concerto are almost not there at all.... It might have been my fault. I started playing the two Brahms concertos relatively late. I never played them as a child; Martin Krause [Arrau's teacher] was against it. I think I must have started working on them only in my twenties" (from "Conversations with Arrau"). Nevertheless, since Arrau was forty-four when this recording was made, it does represent a valid statement from a fully mature artist; and in my view it's vastly superior to his ultra-rhapsodic recordings with Giulini and Haitink.
This disc comes with a great bonus, a blazing recording of the "Waldstein" sonata that Arrau made for Columbia between 1947/49.
Urania offers surprisingly clean sonics, with no scratchy surfaces. Five stars for these revelatory performances!