Chopin: Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35; Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22; Waltzes

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COMPOSERS: Chopin
LABELS: Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Chopin – Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 35; Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22; Waltzes
PERFORMER: Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0940 D

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This great pianist, famed for his perfectionism and also for the frequency with which he cancelled his concerts, was lured by Italian Television in 1962 into giving a couple of recitals in its Turin studios. The first, which I reviewed in the February issue, struck me as mainly frigid, as Michelangeli often did in the flesh. But this recital of Chopin is intensely inspired from first note to last, an excellent example of why this wayward pianist has built up such a phenomenal reputation.

There is a combination of severity and passion in his playing which is quite unlike anyone else’s. A wrong note wouldn’t dare to intrude; everything here is the antithesis of Artur Rubinstein, another great Chopin player, but impetuous and spontaneous. With Michelangeli everything is minutely considered, but never sounds laboured when he is on this kind of form. He begins with the largest work in the programme, the Funeral March Sonata, played with precision but extremely flexible tempos, and a vast dynamic range. It is all great, but the way Michelangeli plays the whirlwind last movement is stunning. Then we are treated to the Ballade in G minor, of which he made a famous recording on the DG label, but I have to say this performance surpasses even that.

Despite his undemonstrativeness, seeing him adds to the intensity of the experience. Only his hands move, with extraordinary seeming individual wills in each of his fingers. This kind of perfection can make even as rambling and loose a piece as the Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante seem significant. And when Michelangeli gets to the brief short works of the second half he discovers in each one a kernel of elegant desolation, Chopin’s unique contribution to music.

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Michael Tanner