Michelangeli Plays Beethoven

by | Feb 7, 2006 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Michelangeli Plays Beethoven

Program: BEETHOVEN: Piano Sonata No. 32 in C Minor, Op. 111; Piano Sonata No. 3 in C Major, Op. 2, No. 3; GALUPPI: Sonata No. 5 in C Major; SCARLATTI: Sonata in C Minor, K. 11; Sonata in C Major, K. 159; Sonata in a Major, K. 322; Sonata in B Minor, K. 27
Studio: Opus Arte DVD OA 0939
Video 4:3 full screen, black & white
Audio: PCM mono and stereo 
Length: 84 minutes
Rating: ****

A recital from Turin, 1962 provides a rare opportunity to savor the illustrious keyboard personality Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (1920-1995) in repertory he cultivated throughout his career. Superbly trained and poetically gifted, Michelangeli possessed a flawless technique and perhaps the strongest hands of any pianist, but it all lay at the mercy of an often intransigent, stubborn willfulness. Michelangeli, somewhat like Josef Hofmann, honed a small arsenal of keyboard works and repolished them until they achieved that “gemlike flame” of which Pater writes. The sleek, impassive countenance which Michelangeli proffers to his devoted audience reveals little that appears emotional or spontaneous. He is the Heifetz of the piano, and even the camera must approach him at a distance, at its own risk. We get only side views of those immense hands, but the crystal they churn out flashes like a miniature, exploding sun. When the Beethoven Arietta suddenly sings in the midst of the glistening affects, it is that symphonic dulcimer the poet heard in Kubla Khan. That Michelangeli has distributed the trills and melodic tissue equally between his two straddling hands is a minor miracle in itself.

Has ever an artist so thoroughly ignored, even rebuffed, his audience?  [Yes. Miles Davis…Ed.] The barest nod of recognition, and he retires from the stage after a colossal, spellbinding Op. 111. The C Major Sonata plays as a miniature concerto, replete with cadenza and hurling octave passages. Michelangeli negotiates his broad canvas with a huge brush, juxtaposing large masses of sound against the intricate, staccato filigree with which the piano suddenly weaves a melodic idea. Michelangeli had specifically stipulated that no facial close-ups be permitted, so the camera must settle for side-views, overheads, and zooms onto those fluid hands. Michelangeli’s sforzati and crescendi startle even the camera. Musically, his landings are rock solid, that every major cadence feels as if we had reached the Promised Land. All Michelangeli will concede to anything like emotion is a raised eyebrow and a set jaw line. The plaintive E Major begins as a serenade, but it will later require expressive appoggiaturas from Michelangeli’s elegantly crossed hands. The steely Scherzo might suggest those “dancing rocks” of the poet; the camera uses a composed fadeout to segue to the Rondo, Allegro molto. Michelangeli allies the designation “Apassionato” with full force, the low C reverberating  magisterially.

Galuppi’s C Major Sonata remains Michelangeli’s signature music-box piece.  The pianist’s total repose while executing the more-than-pearly trills belies the condensed intensity of his playing. To describe the lightness and finesse of the Allegro movement would require a sylvan poet, maybe Horace. The Vivace scintillates with glitter and dewdrops. Brilliant staccato etudes in rapid runs characterize the opening Scarlatti sonatas; and for a moment, Michelangeli allows his head to acknowledge the elan in Scarlatti’s rhythmic dances. The A Major has a militant aristocracy about it. No one plays the B Minor at Michelangeli’s breakneck speed; Gilels used to linger to double its length.  The melancholy evaporates in lit clusters from Van Gogh’s Starry Night. When Michelangeli pulls his hands away from keyboard, there is a sense of a master surgeon having restored life to a dying planet.

–Gary Lemco

Related Reviews
Logo Pure Pleasure
Logo Apollo's Fire
Logo Crystal Records Sidebar 300 ms
Logo Jazz Detective Deep Digs Animated 01
La Clave – Acoustic Sounds

La Clave – Acoustic Sounds

Verve/Universal Music Group releases a re-mastered vinyl of an obscure, but highly entertaining 70’s album.