GRIEG Piano Concerto; DEBUSSY Préludes
Somehow you feel it must be possible to deliver the hackneyed opening flourishes of the Grieg Concerto with real abandon and impetuosity, to get the orchestra to respond to them with genuine ardour, then for the soloist to combine flow, virtuoso dash, fantasy and noble eloquence and to crown the structural highpoints in a way that lifts you out of your seat. Yet until you hear a performance like this one you may never quite believe it can be done. A sense of joyous rhapsody buoys up Michelangeli’s playing from first note to last, yet everything is founded on a bedrock of high intelligence, taste and natural authority. And I nearly forgot to mention the fabulous tone-colours he draws from the instrument. His slow movement is by turns balmy and ecstatic, and the finale has terrific drive. Scarcely a phrase that does not sound newly minted; never a note that sounds contrived or unspontaneous. And the virtuosity … ! If your hair is not standing on end in the finale’s coda I suggest an urgent medical check-up. Forget the boxy recording and the hissy background. This is a performance that entirely merits the hysterical cheers that greet it. I see no point in listing any comparisons.
Seventeen years on, Michelangeli’s Debussy also provokes rapturous applause, but in this instance I feel sure it was partly a tribute to his by this time legendary status – he was 63 and rapidly becoming as famous for his cancellations as for his performances. Of course there are marvels of pianism here, but an air of calculation hangs over much of the playing, all the more apparent when heard straight after the dumbfounding Grieg Concerto. Those who have Michelangeli’s DG studio version (recorded in 1978) will find little to prefer here, apart, perhaps, from the slightly warmer acoustic.'