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Michelangeli plays Beethoven
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonatas: No. 3 in C, Op. 2 No. 3 (1794/5) [27'10]; No. 32 in C minor, Op. 111 (1822) [29'00].
Also includes bonus items:
Baldassare GALUPPI (1706-1785)
Sonata No. 5 in C [16'17].
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonatas: C minor, Kk11; C, Kk159; A, Kk322; B minor, Kk27.
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano).
rec. 1960s, RAI Turin (Beethoven 1962).
LPCM. 4:3. All regions. mono
OPUS ARTE MONO OA0939D [84'00] 

 

 

Any 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.

The 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.

His 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.

The 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.

Interesting 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 both.

The '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 movement.

Finally, 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.

Warmly recommended as wholly representative of Michelangeli's art. Momentary glitches in picture quality should deter no-one.

Colin Clarke

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