Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54 (1845) [31:38]
Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 16 (1868) [31:04]
Lyric Pieces, Op. 43: No. 5 (Erotik) [3:25]; No. 5 (Melankoli) [3:41]
Lyric Pieces, Op. 68: No. 5 (Bådnlåt) [3:15]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Images, Book 1: No. 1, Reflets dans l’eau [4:56]
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Antonio Pedrotti (Schumann), Alceo Galliera (Grieg).
rec. 4 September 1942, Milan (Schumann); 2 September 1942, Milan (Grieg concerto); 6 September 1942, Milan (Erotik); December 1939-January 1940, Milan (Melankoli, Bådnlåt); 27 October 1948, Abbey Road Studios, London (Debussy). ADD
NAXOS 8.111396 [77:58] 

This disc is no. 3 in the Naxos series Great Pianists: Michelangeli. The familiar coupling of the Grieg and Schumann concertos is supplemented with three of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces and from the Debussy Images. Michelangeli was always very selective about his repertoire, and tended to re-record favourite works several times. In the case of the Schumann, he recorded this another three times to my knowledge, in 1955, 1956 and 1984. He essayed the Grieg again in 1965. The Debussy track gives a fascinating preview of his famous recording from the 1970s, followed by those of 1982 and 1993. All the Grieg and Schumann recordings mentioned were live performances, so this disc, surprisingly, documents his only studio recordings of these concertos.
The Schumann opens quite broadly, becoming more lively as the movement progresses. The width of the tempo fluctuations mark this as a performance somewhat of the old school. The soloist breaks several chords in a way which would not be heard nowadays. Michelangeli’s approach is, however, always individual, and this never feels routine. The textures often recall chamber music, with sensitive duetting between the soloist and wind principals. After the intensity of the first movement, the Intermezzo can be rather a let-down; on this occasion Michelangeli plays it with enough intensity and projection to make it more interesting than it often seems. The finale is not taken too fast, but is allowed to breathe. Michelangeli’s pianism is superb throughout, with wonderful clarity of articulation and intuitive phrasing that never seems hurried. The recording is a bit constricted at the tuttis, with a little surface swish in the Intermezzo, but the treble has enough sparkle to capture Michelangeli’s consistently attractive tone.
The solo flourish at the beginning of the Grieg is crisply dispatched, with a pronounced rallentando for the second subject. The Adagio is tenderly built by Galliera, but the horn solo is a bit muffled. The finale has a coiled rhythmic tautness. The slower episodes are again quite a bit slower, but the music never sags. The piano, however, has gone a bit out of tune by the time we get to the return of the main theme. From the extraverted mood of the outer movements to the more contemplative slow movement, the work’s wide emotional range is strongly projected by Michelangeli. His imperious technical command is always evident, and the dynamics are carefully shaped without sounding calculated. Both Pedrotti and Galliera work up quite a bit of tension in their supporting roles, and the La Scala orchestra plays well. The piano sound is more realistic in the Grieg, but in both cases the sound is very acceptable for the period, with just a little distortion at the tuttis. The Lyric Pieces are perhaps a little bit clinical; they and the Debussy, however, give further evidence of Michelangeli’s tonal variety and cultivated phrasing.
Like Michelangeli, Sviatoslav Richter recorded the Schumann concerto several times. His 1975 Monte Carlo recording is a minute faster in the first two movements, although the timing of the finale is almost identical to Michelangeli’s. The Grieg coupling is quicker also, again by about a minute for each of the movements. Richter’s performances are more “modern”, both in terms of the recorded sound, and in the less extreme tempo fluctuations within the outer movements. Listening to these performances made me realise the similarities between these great artists. Both can be relied upon to turn in performances of the utmost virtuosity and range of tonal colour. Each has a distinctive view of the work, which can be executed rather rigidly. Neither is notable for spontaneity.
Michelangeli’s early accounts of the Grieg and Schumann concertos have sensitivity, fantasy and authority in a near-ideal combination.  

Guy Aron 

Sensitivity, fantasy and authority in a near-ideal combination. 

Masterwork Index: Grieg concerto ~~ Schumann concerto

Naxos Historical series: Michelangeli

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