Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 15, K450; Piano Concerto No. 20, K466
These concert recordings from the 1956 Ludwigsburg Festival show a supreme pianistic technician at the peak of his powers. More rewardingly and valuably still, they reveal a quality of the 36-year-old Michelangeli’s artistry that in later years he tended to submerge: intensely forceful engagement with the works he played.
Michelangeli was controversial, especially in his later years. Along with their customary tributes to keyboard perfection, critics often employed the adjectives ‘impersonal’, ‘marmoreal’, even ‘heartless’ to describe an interpretative approach at once fine-grained, rigorously controlled and emotionally detached. Not so here. These Concertos, the sprightly B flat with its opera buffa-style finale and the darkly Don Giovanni-predicting D minor, are unfolded with mesmerising brilliance, vigour and certainty of purpose. They were among the handful that Michelangeli returned to regularly – his repertory was famously small (and in fact his discography already contains more than one example of both works).
Judged according to current Mozartian performance practice, the drama he stirs up in their solo lines is abstract, text-bound rather than theatre-influenced. And the relationship established with a decent minor-league orchestra under De Bavier’s baton remains firmly that of master with servant – the communicative interchange with wind instruments created in, say, Murray Perahia’s or András Schiff’s recordings is light-years distant. But on their own terms, these remain Mozart readings of limitless fascination.