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Grieg Concerto Not Minor to Richter, Michelangeli

August 22, 1993|HERBERT GLASS | Herbert Glass is a regular contributor to Calendar.

The recent appearance of two additional recorded editions of Grieg's Piano Concerto--bringing the number currently available on CD to at least 40, perhaps 30 more than the world needs--nonetheless demands attention, if for no other reason than that the performers are certified living legends infrequently heard from: Ukrainian-born (in 1915) Sviatoslav Richter and Italian-born (in 1920) Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli.

The reputations of both elusive artists--available for a limited number of cancellations per season (if indeed Michelangeli is available even for those any longer), as the saying goes--are, however, grounded in the loftiest, rarest and most serious kind of artistry.

The initial impression gained from both recordings is of musicians who don't buy any of that nonsense about Grieg being a minor composer, or his Concerto being unworthy of the most serious dedication.

Both men are consummate technicians. But then isn't just about every pianist you've ever heard of? What separates these two from the herd--their mystiques aside--is that both are also profound explorers of music's technical and emotional workings. And it doesn't hurt that each is as readily able to charm with subtle inflections as thrill with the grand gestures and golden sonorities.

In Richter's Grieg, recorded live at the 1968 Bergen Festival (Intaglio 7511), one feels those stunning alternations of ferocious drive and deepest introspection that mark this artist at his most engaged: rather as if he was inventing the interpretation on the spot and was carried away--although never far from the printed page--by his rediscovery of the music's beauties.

Richter's collaborators are the Bergen Symphony conducted by the late David Oistrakh, a great violinist and here the kind of sympathetic, attentive colleague required by the mercurial pianist.

The recorded sound is somewhat blasty but decent--better than in its discmate, an equally fiery/reflective examination of the Dvorak Concerto taped live in 1961.

Michelangeli's Grieg (Teldec 76439, mid-price) is dimmer in sound than Richter's, the former dating back to 1942 studio sessions in Milan. But with playing of such concentration and affection as the Italian pianist offers, sonics becomes a secondary consideration.

It takes only a few measures to realize that Michelangeli's is a more intimate reading, reflecting the score's Chopinesque undercurrents, while at the same time being more tightly structured. Michelangeli, too, has a sensitive collaborator in Alceo Galliera, who leads the La Scala Orchestra.

The Teldec coupling dates from the same year and is with the same orchestra, this time under Antonio Pedrotti: a touchingly lyrical, gracious performance by Michelangeli of the Schumann Concerto that is reminiscent of the celebrated, even more introspective reading by the short-lived Dinu Lipatti.

Deutsche Grammophon has reissued some stunning examples of Richter's uniquely communicative way with Schumann (435 751, mid-price).

This is a program, most of it studio-recorded between 1956 and 1959, that includes some of the pianist's gorgeously poetic--his kind of poetry being compounded of equal parts reflectiveness and blazing drama--versions of the Opus 12 "Fantasiestucke," "Waldszenen" and the C-major Toccata, the latter's thunder and explosive energy still capable of knocking this listener off his pins after 30-plus years of exposure.

Among the recent crop of live-performance Richter releases on the London label, the standout is another Schumann recital (436 456) recorded in Mantua, Italy, in 1986. It contains some of the sort of esoterica that holds special appeal for Richter, for instance the Opus 72 Fugues and the darkly delicate Opus 23 "Nachstucke," Opus 23.

The pianist also offers the same Toccata recorded decades earlier for DG, now delivered at a somewhat slower pace and not quite as theatrically brilliant as then, but second in excitement only to that of Richter's younger self.

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