There are those who say that Michelangeli's playing is too cool, too perfect, too mechanical. If that were the case one would probably notice it particularly in an all-Chopin recital, since Chopin's music is the essence of romanticism, emotionalism. Well, I'm here to tell you that for all his perfectionism this recital puts that canard to rest. Yes, these live performances are note-perfect (about the only thing amiss I ever noticed was the occasional awkward voicing of a chord) but they are also so full of feeling, however nuanced, that one can do nothing better than be swept along by them. For instance, I had always held up Rubinstein's recordings of the great Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise Brillante, Op. 22, as beyond compare. However, this performance by Michelangeli is at least the equal of those. Indeed, during the Andante I forgot to breathe. When the Grande Polonaise started I was caught up in the elegance of the dance rhythms and was picturing in my mind's eye an aristocratic or military ball, something I'd never quite done before with this piece. Michelangeli takes seriously the indication 'spianato' ('smooth') for the Andante and when the almost martial snap of the Polonaise begins one is both surprised and delighted. This is a magnificent performance.
For many people the main attraction here will be the first item on the program, the B Flat Minor Sonata, Op. 35. It, too, is magnificent. The Funeral March is played without false sadness, but rather as an inexorable procession to the graveyard; its middle section, with that gorgeous right-hand melody floating above the accompaniment, provides a brief respite. And, of course, it is followed by the unisono Presto that has so often been described as 'the sound of the wind sweeping over a graveyard.' The key to achieving that effect is for the movement to be played with a so-called 'hammerless piano' effect, and Michelangeli achieves that brilliantly.
There follows a mellow performance of the G Minor Ballade with effortless filigree (one of Michelangeli's trademarks, also in particular evidence on the exciting performance of the B Flat Minor Scherzo and in the Berceuse) and the Fantasie, Op. 49, admittedly one of my less favorite Chopin works, but played in lovely fashion here; in the latter and elsewhere we get to see and hear the utter perfection of Michelangeli's trills that are, as far as I'm concerned, the best I've ever heard. We get three waltzes, three mazurkas and the heart-easing Berceuse in D Flat, Op. 57, with its gradually accumulating filigree. Highlights include the dramatic performance of the posthumous Waltz in E Flat and the B Minor Mazurka.
The recital is filmed in a studio of RAI, Turin, with a minimum of camera work. There are no face or head shots. The camera either gives us a view as from a front row, or a closeup of the pianist's hands. There is minimal intercutting of views. The recital appears to have been filmed in one take. The only edit appears between the third and fourth movements of the Sonata with a change of camera angle just before Michelangeli launches into that amazing fourth movement. The DVD is in black and white, a piano on an uncluttered stage placed in front of a plain light gray background and with a single microphone at the middle of the front of the stage; the image is crisp, with deep focus. Sound is LPCM mono and of its time, quite acceptable. Running time is 109 minutes, no extras, title cards in easily deciphered Italian.
For those of you who are fans of Michelangeli, this DVD is a must-have.