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)
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
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 HISTORICAL 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
Masterwork Index: Grieg
concerto ~~ Schumann
Naxos Historical series: Michelangeli