Michelangeli achieved legendary status as one of the
great pianists of the 20th century, and Debussy was one of the composers
with whom he was frequently associated. These recordings from Italian
Radio date from 1963, and Michelangeli is heard at his compelling best.
The remastering is successful in giving a clear sound
perspective while maintaining a sense of atmosphere. No doubt the sound
is better than it has been previously. It is still not wonderful, of
course, and the cover sleeve offers us the description 'historical'.
Be that as it may, no-one acquiring this disc is likely to be disappointed
that the sound is distorted or lacking in impact. It will give pleasure.
Pleasure in sound was of course one of Debussy's priorities
as a composer, and nowhere more than in his piano music. If there is
to be a criticism of these performances, and of Michelangeli's Debussy
in general terms, it has to be that he gave less priority than he might
have done to shadings of dynamic. Details within the texture, articulation
of phrasing and line, are always exemplary, but sometimes the playing
might be more closely attentive to the score, and quieter. These thoughts
apply most to the second set of Images, and in particular to the slow-moving
sections of Poissons d'or and Et la lune déscend sur
le temple qui fut.
The crystalline detail of shimmering water is present
in the first of the Images, the famous Reflets dans l'eau, in
a performance which gets absolutely to the heart of the matter. And
the two examples from the second book of Préludes are sonorously
presented, if making one crave for a more sophisticated recorded sound
which would do full justice to the quality of the playing.
Michelangeli frequently programmed Children's Corner
in his recitals, and he recorded it in the studio for Deutsche Grammophon.
This radio performance is nicely spontaneous, and ends in celebratory
fashion with a rhythmically pointed Cakewalk from the Golliwog. As so
often with these Apex recordings, the supporting documentation is well
written but poorly presented, and badly organised on the page.