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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791) Piano Concerto No.25 in C, K503 (1786) [30:08]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873–1943)
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, op.40 (1917/1926 rev 1941) [24:26]
Frederic CHOPIN (1810–1849)
Waltz No.17 in Eb, op. post [2:40]
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
Orchestra Filarmonica “Alessandro Scarlatti” della RAI di Napoli (Mozart), Orchestra Filarmonica della RAI di Roma (Rachmaninov)/Franco Caracciolo
rec. 19 November 1957, Sala del Conservatorio di San Pietro a Majella, Naples (Mozart); 12 May 1956, RAI-Auditorium del Foro Italico, Roma (Rachmaninov and Chopin)) ADD
ALTARA ALT1023 [57:14] 

Experience Classicsonline


There’s been quite a few issues of Michelangeli in concert over the past few years and this new one is most welcome.
 

Together with Solomon, for me, Michelangeli is one of the finest Mozarteans of that generation. There is a poise in both of their playing which I find missing in many performers these days – Mitsuko Uchida and Alfred Brendel excepted. Forget any thoughts you might have of “authentic” performances, this is Mozart writ large – and all the better for that, I say. We must never forget that from the 31st Symphony, K297, onwards, Mozart was writing big music with big ideas and big gestures and these need more than a few enthusiasts with good intentions to realise them for us! 

The opening tutti of K503 is a bit rough and ready but Michelangeli’s opening phrase is sublime; delicate and perfectly placed, with a singing quality, the rubato flawlessly utilized, and the runs steady and understated - this accounts for about 30 seconds of music, but it shows exactly how the performance will proceed. It is unfortunate that the orchestra cannot match Michelangeli in his interpretation, but it does its best and when accompanying is discreet, even if the tuttis tend to be somewhat fierce. But it’s Michelangeli who is in charge and he is magnificent. In the slow movement he’s especially thoughtful, his first entry weighty, then immediately falling away, like a lover after some extra exertions, then phrasing the theme with a graceful and restrained passion. The finale is well paced and this helps us to appreciate Mozart’s jokes all the more. At the end a mere moment or two of exuberant applause is left, I would have liked a bit more so as not to take us out of the concert hall too quickly, and remove the music making from our minds. 

The Rachmaninov comes as a real shock after the Mozart, but only because the short recording of the applause at the end of the Mozart, and a mere six seconds silence simply isn’t sufficient to allow one to re-adjust before leaping forwards, musically, 150 years. Once you’ve recovered what you find is something very special. 

Michelangeli famous 1957 studio recording of this work is still available (EMI CLASSICS 0724356725829 - coupled with a sparkling account of Ravel’s Concerto in G) and it is indispensable, but in many ways this is an even greater performance because of its being live and all that live performance entails. The brief opening tutti – a mere handful of bars – ushers in a passionate Michelangeli, easily and freely giving the first theme full reign, then repeating the experience. I am already breathless. If the performance of K503 showed us Michelangeli the classicist, this performance shows us Michelangeli the ardent lover, his mane of hair flying as he works his musical magic on the Cinderella of Rachmaninov’s Concertos. There’s so much to enjoy and admire in this performance; at 6:30 in the first movement there’s a downward, climactic, rush on the keyboard which he so magnificently realises that it raised the hair on the back of my neck and a shiver of excitement ran down my spine. The slow movement, with its main theme which many say sounds a little like Three Blind Mice, but it always reminds me of Two Lovely Black Eyes as well, is played simply and with restraint, even the climax is held back a little. The hectic finale holds no fears for Michelangeli and he gives his all, whether in an accompanying role or as soloist. The orchestra is certainly better than that in the Mozart and make a very fervent sound in the climaxes. 

Considering the age and conditions of the recordings the sound isn’t bad, and, as with so many of these historical re-issues, the ear quickly adjusts to it. Unfortunately there are a few places, in the Rachmaninov only, where it sounds as if the original tape slipped as it passed the playback head of the replay machine but that shouldn’t worry you over much, it’s over in a second but best be warned because the first couple of times it’s very disturbing. 

Maurizio Pollini, who studied with Michelangeli shortly after taking first prize in the 1960 Chopin International Competition in Warsaw, said that his teacher represented "the absolute peak of piano playing”. That’s all you need to know, and, in truth, is all the review this disk needs.

Bob Briggs 

 


 


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