Michelangeli; The Early Recordings 2 (1939-51)
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 15 in B flat major, K450 (1784) [25:58]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in C major, Op.2 No. 3 (1795) [22:22]
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo No.2 in B flat minor [9:03]
Berceuse in D flat major Op.57 [5:03]
Mazurka No.25 in B minor Op.33 No.4 [5:15]
Mazurka No.47 in A minor Op.68 No.2 [3:09]
Waltz No.9 in A flat Op.69 No.1 [3:28]
Arturo Michelangeli (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica da Camera dell’Ente dei Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano/Ettore Gracis
rec. c. 1939-43, except Concerto (1951), Milan
NAXOS 8.112052 [74:18]

The second volume in this series (see review of Volume 1) offers the fruit of sessions made between 1939 and 1943 (or thereabouts) and 1951. Michelangeli essays a major sonata and concerto and presents his idiosyncratic Chopinesque wares in these Italian inscriptions that sound here about as good as we can reasonably hope.

Before his recordings of Mozart’s K415 and 418 Concertos with Franco Caracciolo he had recorded K450 with Ettore Gracis in Milan in 1951. Assuming it was recorded consecutively we might note in passing the relatively high number of takes for the first side - four in all - which perhaps denoted an uncomfortable settling in period. Thereafter things improved with either successful first or second takes. Refinement and elegance mark out his playing, as well as a strongly textured cadenza, a warmly phrased slow movement - not chilly - and an athletic, indeed almost insouciantly buoyant finale. Yes, there is a degree of tonal micro-management, and the recording quality, despite Ward Marston’s restorative work, was not exactly vintage quality even for this date. However if you’ve not picked up this performance in its other previous reincarnations - it was for example on EMI 5 75230 2 - then now is a budget price opportunity to do so.

The Beethoven sonata performance is a truly remarkable example of the pianist’s poised and technically astonishing control, and especially for a 21 year old his maturity of vision. He brings a wealth of tonal colour and architectural guile to bear, and his noble refinement in the Adagio is palpable, the chordal weighting and pedalling of sovereign potential.

The Chopin sequence though is inconsistent. His rubati in the B flat minor Scherzo are a touch mulish and though the second subject is pleasingly phrased the performance as a whole somewhat lacks direction. The tone is beautiful but the playing surprisingly undisciplined. An earlier recording of the D flat major Berceuse was not issued. This one, made probably the following year, is notable for its delicate tracery. The other side of this 78 contained the rather noisier B minor Mazurka in a stately interpretation. Finally we have the A flat major Waltz, which hearkens back to the Scherzo in its excessive metricality and too vertiginous a sense of contrast.

Nevertheless the young Michelangeli was a wizard, and this second volume in his ‘Early Recordings’ series enshrines the seeds of his future greatness.

Jonathan Woolf