Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli = HAYDN: Piano Concerto in D Major, Op. 21; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor” – Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, piano/Orchestra di Torino della RAI/Mario Rossi (Haydn) /Orchestra di Roma della RAI/Massimo Freccia
Tahra TAH 685, 57:11 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
To have yet another reading of the Beethoven Fifth Piano Concerto by Italian virtuoso Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995) may seem superfluous in an age of recordings that has resurrected several of his outstanding collaborations –with Celibidache, Previtali, and Previn –besides his commercial inscription for DGG with Carlo Maria Giulini. Yet each new unearthing yields more astonishing technique and musical acuity of an order that resists mortal description. The performance given here from Rome (12 December 1959) [therefore probably mono, eh?…Ed.] under the equally strong personality of Massimo Freccia (1906-2004) shimmers with nervous, leonine energy, pulsating between Michelangeli’s liquidly superheated runs and the barely contained French horn and tympanic flurries from the orchestra. Tiny adjustments to rhythm and harmonized chords provide enough gradation and nuanced definition to create what Celibidache called “orchestral color” in Michelangeli’s playing. The ease of articulation and the sheer security of his landings make Michelangelo a kind of pianistic toreador, whirling a cape in veronicas and dragonfly roulades that occasionally storm like Blake’s Tyger.
We listen in awe to a tensile strength in the keyboard part whose power can only be measured by its pearly softness and detached precision. We begin to sense in the course of the vast unfolding of this concerto exactly what a potent vehicle Beethoven had created for his own gifts. That such demonic power might also sing with deep humanity only deepens the mystery. For a testament to tonal and rhythmic control, listen to Michelangeli’s departure from the series of rising trills in the Adagio that swagger into a statement of the main theme and its subsequent dialogue with the woodwinds. The Rondo, happily, proceeds expansively and gaily, both a dance of levity and monumental proportions. Plastic, lyrical, frolicking, stentorian, Michelangeli’s protean character captures the infinite facets of this fiercely spirited music, a concerto that he must have confronted and embraced over 100 times.
No less staggering is Michelangeli’s rendering of the Haydn Concerto in D (18 December 1959) in Turin with Mario Rossi (1902-1992), unbuttoned and explosively spontaneous as his commercial recording with Edmond de Stoutz for EMI remains mannered and stylistically perverse. What generates much of the electric propulsion of the performance are Michelangeli’s cadenzas for the first two movements, heated, rhetorical, and graded with florid nuance of infinite polish. The steely chords prove–in the words of painter Giorgio de Chirico–“stern, cerebral, ascetic, and lyrical.” The critic Harold C. Schonberg used to compare Michelangeli’s unfailing technique to a bullet whose course could never be altered in its inexorable direction. The athleticism simply abounds, jubilant, luxurious, unfettered by digital constraints. By the time we reach the last movement Rondo, allegro assai, the banter between solo and orchestra attains perfect freedom of expression, rollicking back and forth in gypsy fashion, two antiphonal “orchestras” strutting like competing peacocks. “A recording of special merit” used to be the nomenclature for records like this one.