on 29 November 2001
This recording is the best Chopin mazurkas CD that I have (well, not that I have many, but I have quite a couple). I guess they recorded it in a spacious room, so when you listen to it with a good headphone and your eyes closed, you can FEEL the space. In most Chopin records, you hear simple fiery passion; but in this record, you can hear the strong fiery passion but it is suppressed ever so delicately so not to disturb anyone or any object that the pianist is passionate about. It's a passion that is well controlled by the owner because he knows that it's going to stay with him forever, so he must be careful and do not let it over come him...
For the Michelangeli fans, there's one thing to note: Michelangeli is known for his stubborn attachment to a certain piano stool, which creaks. He'd simply refuse to play if someone replaced the stool. On this record, if you listen ever so carefully then you'll hear this stool creaking away in the background while his master plays.
on 24 February 2011
Michelangeli is one of the greatest pianists who ever lived in my opinion. His performances on this recording are nothing short of remarkable, perhaps because he plays them like no other. There is a certain bleakness, an indescribable blackness here, he doesn't let much joy (at all) shine out of these pieces; even the selection that he chose isn't exactly the Polish masters most sparkling best. No, it's his most sombre, introspective.
Listen to opus 30, number 3. The tempo is just slightly too slow to sound joyful, the rests just slightly too pronounced, the phrases just a little bit too loud at the ends to sound as if they actually have a point. No, this is enforced joy as much as in any recording of Shostakovich 5. I wouldn't want this to be the only recording of the mazurkas that I have - I'd be tempted to slit my wrists - but neither would I ever want to be without it.
This recording is subtle and somehow... perfect.
Do you have ears for sheer greatness? Of all the piano records I have ever heard (a great many!) this is in the final top few. The recorded sound is not, I dare say, 'perfect' (whatever that is) but it suits this player very well with its slightly 'soft-focus' effect. And the playing -- well, perfect is hardly adequate as an adjective. No doubt there are music lovers that Michelangeli does not appeal to, and there is no doubt that his manner is individual. I would still suggest that they listen, or listen again as the case may be, to this disc. This is not bijou Chopin, to say the least. Even in the verge-of-audibility pianissimo he uses in the prelude op 45, M's touch is a big touch, and the mazurkas are bigger in their impact than usual. The G minor ballade is rhapsodic and 'romantic' with a lot of natural ebb and flow in the tempo and plenty of natural flexibility in the rhythm throughout, and what sort of music lover can anyone be who is not overawed by that magnificent tone? This is the playing of a giant, and the final section, reputedly the most difficult in all Chopin, gives as good an idea as anything M ever did of the legendary infallibility of so much of his playing. In the B flat minor scherzo his interpretation did not change much over the years. I was fascinated to compare him with Horowitz and Richter here. In the lovely cantabile near the start Horowitz's left hand has an incomparable sparkle. M's left hand is an indistinct murmur with really celestial little highlights in it, the melody has an almost drowsy effect compared with Horowitz's eagerness, and it was a surprise to find that M is actually the faster of the two. Richter is awfully good of course, but, for me, simply less remarkable. There's an interesting touch at the end where M plays a reading I had not heard before from anyone -- the last note is not the familiar high treble effect but an octave B flat in the bass played in quite phenomenally exact time. The other piece is the solitary prelude op 45, and if I had to name a single piece that most sums up for me the unique greatness of this titan of the 20th century piano it would be either this or the account he gave of the B minor scherzo in his 1990 London recital. It is quiet, brooding and smouldering -- I know nothing quite like it. Nor like him.
on 10 March 2005
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli is a maestro of the first order and in this recording he simply takes you to another realm. Deft, subtle, measured and passionate all at the same time - he is one of the greatest painists who ever lived - Chopin is in his soul, so he can communicate it to the listener. I have been familiar with this recording for 20 years and it has become a measure for all subsequent Chopin recordings.