Notes and Editorial Reviews
MICHELANGELI PLAYS CHOPIN
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (pn)
RAI/OPUS ARTE OA 0940 D (DVD 106:00)
Sonata in B?,
Ballade in g,
Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante,
Waltzes: in A?,
Scherzo No. 2 in B?,
Mazurkas: in a,
op. 33/4; i
Berceuse in D?,
Solo pianist concert films can sometimes possess a galvanizing austerity—that the same can be said for Chopin’s music makes this Michelangeli set from a rare 1962 RAI television broadcast all the more delightful.
First, the filmic considerations: Michelangeli, a man who seldom viewed his audience with much regard and disdainful to the point of acerbity, insisted upon minimal camera setups for this telecast, and that those cameras were to avoid facial close-ups of any kind. As a result, there are few cuts in the production, which is instead comprised of elongated takes, marked by a feeling of stasis within the shots; we are poised as the awestruck observer, unable to look away. There’s a deliberation to how this music unfolds, how Michelangeli is presented visually, even an extreme deliberation in how Michelangeli carries out all of his mannerisms, a human rain delay at the piano bench—wiping his brow, folding and refolding his handkerchief, straightening the line in his pants.
Musically, the “knock” on Michelangeli has long been that his infatuation with precision—sometimes considered an obsession of placing exactitude above feeling—renders his playing clinical, an asceticism bereft of warmth, with a relatively compact repertoire to further bear out that such perfectionism can be limiting. This is nonsense. The viewer is the sole and intended audience of this production, a concert of a different sort, and still the music envelopes as though we were huddled around the apron of the stage. If Chopin’s “Funeral March” sonata is a void from which there is no escape, in this rendition, it is yet more despairing, and a portion of that despair stems from the realization, an epiphany of sorts, that such somber shadings can hold so much life-affirming beauty. A single consideration of any of the three waltzes included here, or Michelangeli’s rendering of the fantasia, displays the pianist’s mastery of note dynamics—a single note is sustained, then pinched off, a tone generated, then tamped down, almost as though Michelangeli is manipulating the acoustics of the hall. A neat paradox, given that this item crying out for inclusion in the collection is not without ironies itself; not strictly a musical work, nor exclusively a film—even a documentary—what we are left with is exemplary fusion art, 19th-century Romanticism crossed with the modernity of television’s pop culture.
FANFARE: Colin Fleming
Works on This Recording
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