'One of the finest concerto records ever made. Marvellous piano
this disc will give you enormous delight.'
- Original Gramophone review.
'Great excitement when this album arrived! Straight away, it was hastened
to my CD player, for this is one of the true piano classics of the gramophone.
I checked the digital transfer sound quality against my treasured old 1958
LP and was assured: more detail and, of course, full security against those
devastating old clicks and plops. I say treasured LP because it has always
been one of the pearls of my collection. I checked my log (I habitually wrote
the dates when I played my LPs on the inner sleeves) and noticed I had played
this record more often than practically any other I owned.
Michelangeli made too few recordings. He was meticulous in preparation, and
his fabulous technique and elegant playing was the result of years of intense
and obsessive work. Listening to him playing these two concerti, one marvels
at his lucidity and finesse, the command of dynamics, emphasis and accent,
so that every note and chord has seemingly the exact expressive weight -
finely calculated yet sounding so natural. Then there is the blissful phrasing
and a musical understatement that is all the more emotionally telling.
Rachmaninov's underrated 4th Piano Concerto, has always been
considered something of an ugly duckling. True, this concerto is difficult;
it demands commitment from both player and listener; nevertheless, it is
a very considerable achievement; and, besides, it certainly does not lack
charm. Yes, it is spiky and has, perhaps, more than its fair share of gloom;
as well as Rachmaninov's usual bombast and sweeping romanticism. (One can
detect a fist-shaking defiance against the new order as represented by Prokofiev
for example,) But Michelangeli's great conviction and sensitivity coupled
with Ettore Gracis' first rate accompaniment prove, more than any other recorded
performance that I know of this work, that it is every bit as good as, and
even an advance on Rachmaninov's preceding three concerti. Michelangeli rated
it highly and championed it. I agree with Bryce Morrison absolutely when
he claims that not even the composer himself delivered such a dazzling
performance as recorded here. Michelangeli beautifully, sensitively articulates
Rachmaninov's sense of loss and despair, and yearning but in contrast in
the more bombastic passages he and Gracis deliver a reading of white-hot
excitement - what power, what authority, what conviction! The second movement
with its droopy 'Three Blind Mice'-like theme drew scorn from the critics
and this inevitably held up the progress of the work. Yet stripped of this
connotation, Michelangeli convinces us of its true stature, eloquently showing
us all its passion and its fist-shaking defiance as well as its mournful
If you still need to be convinced about Rachmaninov's Fourth Piano Concerto,
then this is the recording you should turn to.
Often a reviewer's life is made easy, yet paradoxically more difficult, when
he reads in a CD booklet notes exactly what he wants to say about a performance,
so it was when I read Bryce Morrison's eloquent comments about this Michelangeli
reading. Morrison says, "In Ravel's opening Allegramente, with its ultra-Gallic
bustle and chatter, Michelangeli ensures that nothing is merely rushed, hectic
In the Meno vivo second subject, too, with its alternations
of fierceness and languor, Michelangeli's rubato, his musical breathing,
is peculiarly his own, at once cool and supple. And in the same movement's
cadenza the chains of trills are given with an unparalleled evenness, a gliding
from one to the other that forbids even a hint of joins or links; one of
those sublime moments where technique and musicianship are indivisible."
Yes, indeed, here is musicianship of the highest order: tiger-like power
hand-in-hand with silken finesse. Gracis' contribution is equally impressive;
vibrant colours and such energy - and those deliciously shaped and balanced
Michelangeli unhurriedly probes, that much deeper, the heartfelt stillness
of the opening cadenza of the central adagio - 'one of the most touching
melodies to come from the human heart' (to quote Marguerite Long). Michelangeli
reveals more of its pathos and one gets the impression of a disappointed
yearning mixed with a struggling yet quiet defiance. The whole movement is
perfection - total bliss.
The quirky, jazzy glitter of the breathless final Allegro vivace has Michelangeli
showering Ravel's rapid-fire and densely packed toccata-like repeated notes
with easy precision but devastating effect.
Don't hesitate, snap this one up
Technical appraisal by David Dyer
These early stereo recordings have always been held generally in extremely
high regard artistically but, for me, in previous incarnations on CD the
high level of hiss has rendered the listening experience unenjoyable. The
remastering perfomed by EMI in this latest version clearly represents a major
step forward and the overall sound quality is now quite good, however I
personally still find even the reduced level of hiss unwelcome. My advice
is sample first before purchasing.
Equipment used: Proceed CD transport. Chord DSC 1100 DAC. SPA3200
Pre-amp. SPM 1200B Power amp. B&W Nautilus 802 Speakers.
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