“Michelangeli” – BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 ‘Emperor’; Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111; DEBUSSY: Four Images – Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli /Prague Sym. Orch. /Vaclav Smetacek – Praga Digitals SACD (stereo and mono) – PRD/DSD 350-098 (10/8/13) [Dist. by Harmonia mundi] ***:
This disc is part of the ‘In Memorium’ series from Praga Digitals that represents the work of Pianist Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who died in 1995. Considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, this hybrid SACD stereo-mono collection features archival works form 1957 and 1961.
Michelangeli was a perfectionist, and he had a very limited repertoire and slaved over every detail obsessively. In this disc we get Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, the Piano Sonata No. 32, Op. 111 and Debussy’s Four Images for Piano. Each performance is considered a standard to which other interpretations are often compared.
The performances are indeed revelatory. Not flashy or long on technique, but technically as perfect as I have heard. Michelangeli was obsessive about his performances and even insisted on having his own treasured piano brought to each performance.
The recording is only mid-fi. Some of it is stereo, some mono, but these recordings, are not demonstration material. For devotees of the pianist, that won’t matter. Listening to the SACD and CD layer did not reveal any serious sonic differences between them. Both the treble and mid-bass are restricted, reflecting the recording technology of the time. The recordings are a bit dry, but that is not surprising given the age of the tapes and the style of recording.
The Emperor Concerto suffers the most in audio quality, largely because of the larger orchestral forces involved which sound very thin, and because it dates back to 1957. But the performance, recorded in Smetana Hall in Prague with the Prague Symphony is a truly fine one.
The Debussy, which also dates from 1957, is an easier listen in terms of audio quality. The performance is excellent here as well, with a precision of performance that is quite exciting.
No one will buy these discs for the sonics, but they are an excellent record of one of the century’s finest musical talents. Praga Digitals is to be commended for remastering these for modern audiences.
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