Beethoven, Debussy, Ravel

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Beethoven,Debussy,Ravel
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Piano Sonata in A flat, Op. 26; Piano Sonata in E flat, Op. 7
PERFORMER: Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4064-2 ADD stereo/mono
BBC Radio 3 is very keen these days on ‘live’ music, but these are all ‘live’ recordings from long ago – the Beethoven and Debussy from a Royal Festival Hall recital in 1982, the Ravel from a recital given in the Concert Hall of Broadcasting House in 1959. Michelangeli’s commercial studio recordings of the Beethoven sonatas and Gaspard de la nuit have long since been available, but the recording quality here compares very favourably, although the dynamic range in Gaspard seems not only restricted but compromised. Michelangeli himself had no limits in this respect, as you can hear in the Beethoven, and was scrupulous in observing contrasts, especially the most abrupt ones, so it’s hard to believe that he didn’t do justice to the most violent parts of ‘Scarbo’, the last piece in Gaspard. And did he really begin ‘Ondine’, the first piece, so loudly? The piano sound, too, is a bit dry and woolly compared with the Festival Hall recording.

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More than those of any pianist, Michelangeli’s public performances tended to sound like recordings, for he left as little as possible to chance. He was the opposite of Shura Cherkassky, who claimed he never knew how he was going to play. Michelangeli’s ‘interpretations’ (a slightly suspect word) hardly varied at all from one occasion to another. Having said which, he strikes me as slightly less dogged in Beethoven’s Op. 7 Sonata than on his earlier studio recording, though still too slow in the first movement and too fast in the second. Adrian Jack