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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, September 2010

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.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2010

Born in Brescia in 1920, the Italian pianist, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, became one of the true musical legends before he had reached his fortieth birthday, the present disc covering his early recordings. His father’s demands that he should become a doctor almost thwarted his musical aspirations, but after some time studying medicine he returned to his intended life as a concert pianist. A sensational debut in Rome at the age of twenty soon led to engagements around the world, accompanied by critical acclaim expressed in the terms of a musical genius. Whether he grew tired of the demands made on him, or whether it was a more deep seated mental problem, he was by the 1960’s cancelling almost as many concerts as he gave. That only increased public interest in him, those concerts that he did perform confirming that his genius was undimmed. Towards the end of his life, in 1995, he suffered a heart attack and spent his later years making increasingly fewer appearances. His recorded legacy was not massive, and it was interrupted by the Second World War, the recordings contained on this disc being those from 1939 to 1951 for HMV and Telefunken. Though a technical perfectionist he had a very personal style of playing that could at times be willful in its search for musical beauty. His Mozart was stylish, crisp and with that amazing clarity that characterised his playing, but as with the rather cool and classical approach to the Beethoven sonata, we were not yet in the era of period informed performances. His Chopin, on the other hand, was magical, and played with much affection. The Mozart, from 1951, had a Milan orchestra bringing a chamber backdrop, the recording sounding much older than its date. The remainder is very good for its early 1940’s origin, though surface swish is present. A valuable historic document.

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