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