The great Dutch pianist Egon Petri (1881-1962) may not have been the most popular performer of his time, but he was surely one of the most respected. He was a profound musician whose instrument happened to be the piano but might well have been some other (indeed, he played th violin in the Dresden Opera orchestra as a teen-ager). As a pupil and disciple of Busoni, he developed an understanding and appreciation of the music of Liszt that eluded those colleagues (and the greater part of the public) who regarded that far-sighted composer as a mere concocter of stunt pieces. Petri was the ideal Liszt interpreter, and remained active long enough to record some of his repretoire in stereo for Westminster. There could hardly be a happier reminder of the imminent centenary of his birth than the recent reissue of the Liszt transcriptions he recorded at the age of 75 (MCA/Westminister MCA-1414).
While the record is labeled "The Famous Transcriptions," it is especially intriguing because these are not the pieces one usually hears. Instead of the familiar "Don Juan Fantasy" after Mozart, we have the far lesser-known Fantasy on themes from "The Marriage of Figaro." When is the last time you heard the paraphrase on the Wedding March and Elfin Chorus from Mendelssohn's "Midsummer Night's Dream" music, or of Beethoven's song "Adelaide"? Even the familiar treatment of the Waltz from Gounod's "Faust" is a little different here, because it includes a cadenza by Busoni. And the one item that is not a transcription at all, the very well-known Mephisto Waltz, is also performed in a revision by Busoni (as is, in fact, the "Figaro" Fantasy). This is a gem, and all the more treasurable because so little of its contents may be encountered elsewhere.
If Petri was enormously respected, Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli has long been regarded as the proverbial "lengend in his own time." He has made very few recordings, and perhaps none more striking than the one Deutsche Grammophon has just released of the Beethoven Concerto No. 1 in C major, recorded live a little over a year ago in a television concert with Carlo Maria Giulini and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra (2531.302; cassette 3301.302). This is a very large-scale performance, with energy to burn -- as if Michelangeli sensed Beethoven's vigorous impatience to leave the 18th century behind. The slow movement is never sentimentalized, but reveals its own share of thunderbolts, and the finale sparkles with the most elegant wit. Th entire performance exudes the sort of freshness and integrity that leave the listener with the happy impression of having "rediscovered" a thrice-familiar work. The recording is first-rate and the coughing and throat-clearing seem confined to the between-movement breaks. But I think the applause at the end might have been cut away; it breaks the mood and becomes especially tiresome in repeated hearings. Not tiresome enough, however, to keep anyone from returning with unfailing delight.
Maurizio Pollini of course has made numerous recordings with orchestra as well as in solo works, but he had not recorded chamber music until now. His first venture into that realm is the Brahms Quintet in F minor, which he has recorded on another DG disc with the Quartetto Italiano (2531.197; cassette 3301.197). While Pollini's elegance and refinement are qualities that may almost be taken for granted now, this strikes me as the most impassioned performance he has committed to records since his Prokofiev Seventh Sonata of 1972 (DG 2530.225), or perhaps even since his youthful debut in the Chopin C minor Concerto with Kletzki some 20 years ago (Seraphim S-60066). Big and bold, yet remarkably intimate at the same time, and with superb give-and-take between Pollini and his distinguished associates, this is probably the most persuasive statement of this work on records at present. Its closest competitor would appear to be the similarly remarkable performance by Sviatoslav Richter with the now-disbanded Borodin Quartet (Westminster Gold WG-8356), but neither the sound of that mono recording nor the level of integration between performing elements is to be compared with what Deutsche Grammonphon has given us now.