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Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli: The Early Recordings Vol. 1 - 1939-48
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Italian Concerto in F major BWV971 (1735) [11:53]
Chaconne From Partita No. 2 for Violin, BWV 1004 (transcr. Busoni, 1897) [13:40]
Pellegrino TOMEONI (1726-1816)
Allegro in G [2:45]
Baldassarre GALUPPI (1706-1816)
Presto in B flat [4:13]
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)
Sonata in D major L465/K 96 [5:09]
Sonata in B minor L449 K27 [2:49]
Sonata in C minor L352 K11 [3:05]
Sonata in D minor L413 k9 [3:20]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Variations on a theme by Paganini Op.35 (1866) – omitting Book 1 variation 9, Book 2 variations 9 and 14 and re-ordered [16:33]
Enrique GRANADOS (1867-1916)
Danzas españolas Op.37 – No.5 Andaluza [5:02]
André-François MARESCOTTI (1902-1995)
Fantasque (1939) [4:21]
Isaac ALBÉNIZ (1860-1909)
Rumores de la celeta Op.71 – No.8 Malagueña (1887) [3:53]
Federico MOMPOU (1893-1987)
Canción y danza No.1 [3:00]
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
rec. Milan and London 1939-48
NAXOS HISTORICAL 8.111351 [79:44]
Experience Classicsonline

These early Michelangeli recordings enshrine pianism that marries technically impeccable command with a refined aristocracy that never precludes warmth. As the years went by these balances become more problematic. For some the whole aura became too remote.
 
These extremely well transferred examples were recorded in the years between 1939 and 1948 by which time Michelangeli had become internationally known; his New York debut came in 1948.
 
The Italian Concerto receives a reading of incisive buoyancy, the left hand pointing in the opening movement almost intrusive in its sharpness, its animation undoubted though perhaps over balancing. But he vests the writing with tremendous depth of tone colour and real vivacity, and the slow movement with gravity and warmth. One of his best known recorded inscriptions from this period in the Bach-Busoni Chaconne, in which he is at a diametric remove from a romantic cavalier such as Cherkassky. If one feels Michelangeli’s steelier resolutions in this, they are surely balanced by an invincible sense of direction, of dynamism and leonine power – as well as an appropriate sense of warmth. 
 
The run of pieces by Tomeoni, Galuppi and Scarlatti was recorded between c.1941 and 1948 in Milan – though the last one, the Galuppi, was recorded in London. Given the austerity he cultivated one might be surprised by the feathery articulation that attends his delectable performance of the Tomeoni as well, indeed, as the vital buoyancy of the Galuppi. The Scarlatti sequence includes four sonatas, though they were recorded two-by-two for release on two 78s recorded roughly a year apart, one for Telefunken and the other for HMV. The three Spanish items offer a decidedly personal slant on the Iberian muse. His rubati and ‘stance’ in Granados’s Andaluza offer a very different kind of gloss, whilst his Albéniz and Mompou, though hardly less individual, are certainly engagingly played. The Marescotti Fantasque was written for performance at the Geneva Piano Competition in 1939 – which Michelangeli won – and recorded by him in the same year; it’s a frenetic, fun piece. About his Brahms Paganini Variations many opinions will cluster. This is his concert arrangement in which he habitually omitted Book 1 variation 9 and Book 2 variations 9 and 14 and re-ordered Book II. The stylistic and architectural quirks have to be taken as read in a performance of this kind.
 
This first volume of the early recordings promised much and it delivered. The transfers and title selection are well balanced between the canonic and the less well known; the transfers and notes are fittingly first class as well.
 
Jonathan Woolf

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