preserved Michelangeli performance is an important document,
so we have every reason to be grateful to Opus Arte for presenting
this pianist's Beethoven offering.
DVD begins with a concert performance of the last Beethoven
sonata. There is a huge wait for Michelangeli as the camera
pans around the auditorium – too long, but one might argue
it reflects the tense wait that was surely a part of the preamble
to any performance by this pianist.
performance is astonishing in many respects, from the highly
dramatic beginning to the ultra-even semiquavers. More than
anything else, though, it is Michelangeli's grasp of late-Beethovenian
counterpoint that makes this account of the first movement
of Op. 111 special. The second movement fares less well. The
Italianate aloofness so characteristic of this pianist means
one does not quite gain entry to any Elysian Fields. The infinitely
natural unfolding that lies at the heart of this movement
does not seem so natural here. Essentially, the magic is missing,
something that is reflected in the fact that after the final
sounds, Michelangeli immediately picks up his handkerchief
off the piano and gets up for the applause. There is none
of the lingering in the air this ending begs.
third sonata was a Michelangeli favourite. This is recorded
with the pianist alone in a studio with a simply huge microphone
in front of the piano. The actual film quality is lower than
Op. 111, though, with whites very white and, at 9'46 in the
first movement, a most disconcerting sudden darkening of the
picture. Nevertheless it is fascinating to watch Michelangeli's
astonishing confidence, his supreme coolness. Although there
is no audience present, the performance of Op. 2/3 is significantly
more involving than that of Op. 111. The development in particular
has a Herculean aspect to it; the slow movement, from very
simple beginnings, has a left-hand over right that actually
seems to speak. Michelangeli presents the textures as very
bare, achieving real stasis. A Puckish Scherzo which is more
stormy than usual leads to a finale with an almost 'laughing'
staccato. The huge chords are almost processional. Michelangeli's
sense of rhythm is exemplary.
to compare this Op. 2/3 with a broadcast performance on (CD)
Music & Arts CD1147 from the Salle Pleyel, Paris in November
1975, where Michelangeli appears more 'active', perhaps more
alive. Without doubt, any student of the piano should own
'fillers' come from Galuppi and Scarlatti - again studio recordings.
The Galuppi is a substantial offering. Has an Amberti bass,
I wonder, ever been accorded such an aristocratic bearing?
This is gallant, and full of elegant simplicity, the only
caveat being that surely there could have been more wit at
times - in fairness wit was not something for which Michelangeli
was renowned. Better perhaps to admire the preternatural clarity
of the faster moments, and the dancing character of the second
a set of four Scarlatti sonatas. The C minor is of great intimacy;
the ensuing C major - one of the more famous Sonatas - is
wonderfully festive, with dynamics nicely terraced. A charming
A major leads to a final B minor offering that charms winningly.
recommended as wholly representative of Michelangeli's art.
Momentary glitches in picture quality should deter no-one.