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Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997)
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Moments musicaux, D870: No. 1 in C; No. 3 in F minor; No. 6 in Ab; Piano Sonata in E minor, D.566
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849) Barcarolle in F# major, op.60
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Piano Sonata in B minor, S178
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Recorded at Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh, 22nd June 1965 (Schubert D.780), Parish Church, Aldeburgh, 20th June 1964 (Schubert D.566), 21st June 1966 (Chopin/Liszt)
BBC MUSIC BBCL4146-2 [79:39]

These recordings were made in the years when Richter was a frequent visitor to Aldeburgh, both as performer and personal friend of Britten and Pears. It was a relationship that bore much fruit, from the recording of the Britten Piano Concerto, composer conducting, Richter at the keyboard, to the pianist’s late excursion into opera production in his Turn of the Screw of 1984.

These Aldeburgh Festival performances from the mid-1960s, though not wonderful in terms of their sound quality, are nevertheless a splendid addition to the catalogue. The principal item is, of course, the Liszt B minor Sonata, but the other works are full of fascination and musical wonders. He shapes the three Schubert Moments Musicaux with sensitivity and intimacy, though his tempo for no.6 in Ab is far too slow for my taste. The marking is Allegretto, yet Richter plays it as an Adagio, and burdens it with perhaps too much emotional intensity. The less well-known E minor Sonata reveals many beauties, and the limpid textures of the Chopin Barcarolle are perfectly realised.

But it is Richter’s reading of the Liszt Sonata in B minor – surely the composer’s greatest masterpiece – that is truly remarkable. His spacing of the music gives it such intensity of contrast, and allows the symphonic dimensions and arguments to be fully appreciated. The ‘big tune’, with its throbbing left-hand accompaniment, is invested with ecstasy and power at each of its appearances – and how Liszt must have been tempted to repeat this great theme far more often than he does - while the twisted fugue subject has a Mephistophelean menace. The only drawback is the noisy Aldeburgh audience – such a lot of coughing and sneezing for June! Was it a cold Summer in 1966?

As mentioned above, the recording quality is not great; the piano sounds very ‘domestic’, though this has the compensating effect of enhancing the sense of intimacy, consistent with the almost hypnotic concentration of Richter’s playing. Most listeners will want a fine modern recording of the Liszt for repeated hearings; Pletnev on DG and Demidenko on Hyperion, for example, are both superb. But the sense of a special live occasion is so strong in this recording, and Richter is simply not to be missed.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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