There is little to be said about these two stalwarts
of the concerto repertory that has not already been said. Here are two
masterpieces whose compact construction, solo and orchestral virtuosity
and melodic invention is so great, so refined, that to criticize them
now makes any writer seem malicious. Indeed, these pieces have earned
their place in eternity, and rightly so.
So what is to be gained from the purchase of this,
the gazillionth version of these works? Ah, plenty friends! These are
performances of uncommon perfection from one of the greatest and most
enigmatic of all pianists. Are there any surprises in what the often-eccentric
Sviatoslav Richter does to these warhorses? Surprisingly, no there are
not. Presented here, there is instead a portrait of a master at home
with masters. This is playing marked by flawless technique, complete
good taste, and not a note out of place.
What is a real shame is that so great an artist made
these recordings with so second rate an orchestra. These are surveys
that are only really valuable thanks to Richter’s incomparable artistry.
Some frightfully out of tune playing in the winds and brass even further
mars the sloppy and sometimes uneven ensemble, whose sense of rhythmic
cleanliness is often lacking. This malady is particularly noticeable
in the Schumann, where some of the splendid orchestral interludes suffer
severe damage by the glaring intonation problems.
That aside, these are still must-haves for anyone who
loves the great romantic piano literature. Even a not-so-hot orchestra
is unable to spoil the grand artistry of the late great Mr. Richter.
The 1962 recital performance of Papillons is quite the added
bonus. They are perfectly executed. Richter takes uncanny delight in
bringing out the individual characters represented in Schumann’s imaginative
Bryce Morrison has written an excellent essay on the
person of Richter and his manner with this music. The now thirty-plus
year old analogue recordings hold their own quite nicely, and are warm
and vibrant. Every serious record collector probably has this recording
in some guise or another. If not, the mid-price EMI Great Recordings
series, which is so much more nicely packaged now than when it was first
started some years ago, is a bargain indeed. Grab this one.
see also review
by Christopher Howell
of the Century