Michelangeli: The Early Recordings 1939 - 1951
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.15 in B flat K450 (1784) [25:58]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.3 in C op.2/3 (1795) [22:22]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Scherzo in B minor op.31 (1837) [9:03]
Berceuse in D op.57 (1844) [5:03]
Mazurka No.25 in B minor op.33/4 (1838) [5:15]
Mazurka No.47 in A Minor op.68/2 (pub 1855) [3:09]
Waltz No.9 in A flat op.69/1 (1835) [3:28]
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
Orchestra Sinfonica da camera dell’Ente dei Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano/Ettore Gracis
rec. Milan c. December 1939 - January 1940, (Mazurka No.47 and Waltz); January 1940 (Scherzo, op.31); c September/October 1941 (Beethoven); 20 January 1943 (Berceuse and Mazurka No.25); Teatro Nuovo, Milan 26-27 June 1951 (Mozart)
Re - issues of HMV DA 5371 (Mazurka No.47 and Waltz); HMV DB 11348/50 (Mozart); HMV DB 5355 (Scherzo); HMV DB 5442/5444 (Beethoven) and Telefunken GX 612018 (Berceuse and Mazurka No.25)
NAXOS 8.112052 [74:18]

Here’s a fascinating collection of early Michelangeli recordings which show him to best advantage. It features music with which he was closely associated.

Mozart’s K450 Concerto is a very much a young man’s performance. There’s a real feeling of the simple pleasure of making music. Michelangeli is perfectly in control of his reading. He displays a nicely bluff sense of humour in the first movement, which is kept tightly in tempo, highlighting the humour. Likewise the finale, another of Mozart’s seeming childlike inspirations. The slow movement is a veritable oasis of calm. The piano sound is very good indeed, the upper notes having a lovely ringing tone. Even though the instrument is pushed very far forward it doesn’t obscure the orchestra, which is good, but Michelangeli’s interpretation deserved better.

He displays a wonderful classical sensibility in the early Beethoven Sonata, but he is always aware that this is the Beethoven who is going to shake the world, so he takes risks and gives the music some heft when it can take it. A later (1975) performance by Michelangeli is available on Music and Arts CD-1147 and although this is better integrated, it doesn’t have the youthful joie de vivre found in every bar of this recording. Despite his youth, Michelangeli finds deep emotion and tension in the slow movement; this is very good indeed. Here, the piano sound is good but in the upper register there is the tendency for the sound to resemble a music-box! A passing thing and not too obtrusive.

Chopin’s 2nd Scherzo is fiery and, almost, demonic is its faster sections, and full of poetic delight in its moments of repose. This is a magisterial performance. The four miniatures are a nice make-weight and bring to a close a fascinating and stimulating disk.

The piano sound, throughout, is good. It varies due to the different dates of recording, but it’s never unacceptable, even when it’s a bit boxy. A little surface noise has been left on the transfers. I really welcome this for it gives a period feel to the recording, which cannot hide its age so why not revel in its source? It’s a privilege to hear this great pianist at the start of his career and this disk is worth having for the Mozart Concerto alone.

Bob Briggs

A fascinating collection of early Michelangeli recordings which show him to best advantage

see also review by Jonathan Woolf