Richter treasure here. In the B flat his touch is crystalline,
his phrasing shapely. The tempo seems deceptively relaxed during
the opening tutti, but Richter makes the brilliant passages
sparkle nevertheless. Over and above it all is a feeling of
humanity. He could always be lofty but even in his heyday he
could seem remote in the classical repertoire, as he increasingly
did in his later years. Here is a performance by which to remember
him as a wonderful Mozartian. For the record, there is a notable
memory lapse near the beginning.
Larghetto is very slow but he holds the attention, while the
finale is exuberant at a slightly faster pace than we often
hear. Britten sometimes seems to want to characterize every
moment to excess, but at least we know that with him on the
rostrum that there will be none of the nondescript phrasing
which critics sometimes describe as “unaffectedly musical” (aka
“the conductor beats time and it goes how it goes”). The silence
which greets the performance reminds us that in those high and
far off times applause was still disapproved of in a church.
I said, some Richter treasure. Then there’s the E flat
… Actually, in the first movement Richter’s playing is much
as it is in the other work. Where I take issue is with Britten.
great composer has his own particular relationship with the
different keys. E flat was for Mozart the key of Die Zauberflöte.
Even the E flat Symphony – no.39 – is, once past the introduction,
more about warmth and humanity than about drama. Annie Fischer,
with the Philharmonia under a particularly inspired young Wolfgang
Sawallisch, takes us into the enchanted world of the Magic Flute.
For Beethoven, E flat was the key of the Eroica and the
Emperor Concerto. Perhaps it was for Britten, too, and I get
the idea he wants to take this concerto by the scruff of its
neck and turn it into a proto-Emperor Concerto. For a while
the pair seem at odds, with Richter gently pursuing his own
path willy-nilly. Then gradually he gets the bug. The reprise
of the main theme of the Andante is unusually full-textured
for Mozart, but there’s no need to make it sound like Rachmaninov.
The theme of the finale is rapped out most unsympathetically,
with Britten in full agreement.
then there are the cadenzas. For the B flat, Mozart had fortunately
written his own. For the E flat, Britten has supplied the gap.
Now, I’ve nothing against a contemporary composer providing
a cadenza in his own style. I very much enjoyed the cadenzas
which Kalevi Aho wrote for Sharon Bezaly to play in the flute
concertos. They were totally contemporary yet somehow they provided
their own comment on the works. In a strange way they fitted.
Britten could have done something of the kind. Or he could have
simply tried to keep as close to the Mozartian style as possible.
Instead, I just don’t know what he thought he was doing. These
sound like extracts from the sort of empty virtuosic Soviet
competition pieces which were churned out by the likes of Kabalevsky
downwards. Quite unspeakably awful!
this is more one for the Richter – and Britten – completists.
the record, since writing this I’ve read in the booklet that
the cadenzas were intended as a musical portrait of Richter’s
own personality. Most unflattering, I must say.
conclude, there is the Adagio and Fugue in C minor. I recently
had Klemperer stomping through this and making it sound like
Beethoven. Britten’s wide range of dynamic shading, effective
in its way, makes it sound like a cousin to the Elgar Introduction
and Allegro. Is there a performance somewhere that makes
it sound like Mozart?
recordings are extremely good. Alternative Richter versions
of these concertos are few. There’s a 1966 version of K595 with
Barshai in Moscow, and versions of K.482 with Ormandy from 1970
– I don’t know how official a recording this is – and Muti from
1979. The latter is an EMI studio recording. These are hardly
top recommendations, but I’ll be returning to the B flat quite