DAVID BRYSON | Glossop Derbyshire England | 05/22/2004
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It was notoriously difficult to lure Michelangeli either on to the concert platform or into the recording studio. In the vinyl era those anxious to collect anything they could of the work of this phenomenon of the modern keyboard made do largely with discs of questionable origins, some of which sounded as if they had been recorded down the telephone but others of which were surprisingly good. The cd era is just a little better, and the Michelangeli-collector waits like patience on her monument to see what may turn up. I had not long ago acquired a version of Mozart's K488 by M with Giulini from 1951 and reconciled myself to the abysmal recorded quality, and now here is another version that is far better.These two Mozart performances date from 1953. The recorded sound is not brilliant but it is quite adequate. More to the point, this is the best Mozart-playing that I have ever heard from this soloist, not in general my own idea of a natural Mozart stylist. He recorded K415 again in 1989 with the North German Orchestra under Cord Garben. It's good, and of course it's Michelangeli, but not as good as this one. M scales down his enormous touch very well indeed, but the real surprise is how spontaneous and natural he managed to sound in 1953. The 1989 account is full of artful and `expressive' little rhythmic inflexions, the 1953 one does without them and how much better it is for that. I don't know who the Orchestra Alessandro Scarlatti were or are, but they are not an oversized band. They are here again in K488 with the same conductor, and the performance has the same characteristics of naturalness and comparative openness, just slightly reminiscent of Solomon's famous recording from much the same time. M's tempi are a little slower, but there is a similar `soft-focus' quality to the touch that each deploys and a similar feeling of introversion. When it comes to the Haydn I am simply speechless, so much so that I have to borrow the celebrated catch-phrase of HRH the Prince of Wales - `it really is appalling'. I know this performance of old because I have owned it since it was first issued on LP. M must have had some clear idea of what he thought he was about, but what it might have been is beyond me. The whole scale of the presentation is ludicrously overblown and out of proportion, and M's loud, plonking, uninflected and graceless left-hand chords at his first entry are only the worst example of a total lack of sensitivity that would have had me switching the thing off if the soloist had been anybody else. I can't suppose that it was a deliberate attempt at parody, but I haven't got a better explanation either.It just so happens that the other pianist whose work I collect systematically is Rudolf Serkin, and it also so happens that his performance of K488 from 1955 has just been reissued too on the Sony label. I would not want to be without Michelangeli, but Serkin's Mozart at its best was of another interpretative order entirely. He has individuality in abundance, but everything is to scale, the crystalline touch is simply wonderful, and Serkin's sublime rhythmic instinct is something that Michelangeli never came near. This set is a very mixed bag indeed. I wouldn't part with it, and I wouldn't even go so far as to say that it can only be recommended to collectors. The Haydn has curiosity value and nothing else. As for the two Mozart readings, I would have liked them even if I hadn't known who was playing, and it could well be that they have general appeal."