Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Sonata in B flat major, opus 106 'Hammerklavier'
Sonata in C major, opus 2 no. 3
Bagatelles, opus 126

Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
BBC Legends BBCL 4052-2 (78 minutes)

The great Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter gave this all-Beethoven recital in London and at the Aldburgh in June 1975; it is the latter performance from Blythburgh Church which is recorded here. A great occasion it was too. I was there at the Royal Festival Hall and the occasion remains vividly in my memory, now brought to life again by this splendidly atmospheric recording. A critic wrote of the recital, 'Beethoven remains the ultimate challenge for the pianist', and it is true that in the 'Hammerklavier' Sonata especially, Richter communicates the feeling of rising to meet a supreme challenge.

The concentration of the playing in the slow movement is nothing less than extraordinary, but it is the majestic grandeur with which the fugal finale is delivered which is most special of all. Given the scale and sheer size of this late Sonata, Richter wisely prefaced it with shorter pieces, though they are not without substance themselves. The early Sonata in C, opus 2 no. 3, is a highly individual work, and Richter clearly believed its forward-looking qualities would lead towards the world of the later masterpiece. He was very fond of playing single-composer recitals, and perhaps this was why. In between come the opus 126 Bagatelles, under-estimated by those who do not really know them, these form Beethoven's final statement as a composer of piano music, surprisingly wide ranging in their imageries and forward-looking in their style.

Richter's qualities as an artist are readily communicated here. The performances really do have something special to say about the music, and the ambient recorded sound also succeeds in capturing the tone quality of the instrument.

Terry Barfoot

and Colin Clarke adds:

Characteristically searching Beethoven from Richter, caught live in Blythburgh Church, Aldeburgh on June 11th, 1975. His Op. 2 No. 3 has a monolithic quality that can appear relentless at times, but what impresses most is his orchestral conception of this score. Listen to his bass in the second movement: he positively recreates the sound of organ pedals. He lets light into the Scherzo, however - the parts chase each other around the keyboard in the most skittish of fashions.

The group of three Bagatelles forms a well-integrated grouping. Richter is not afraid to bring out the manic quality of Op. 126 No. 4. He has all the tenderness required for the Andante amabile e con moto of No. 6 (the tempo marking which takes up most of this piece: it is listed as merely Presto on the back of the CD, although this only refers to the framing six-bar gestures). Most people will probably buy this CD for the Hammerklavier, however - and they will not be disappointed. The whole performance has an imperial sense of breadth and grandeur borne of long experience. Perhaps the most impressive factor is Richter's delineation of textures (often under the most taxing of situations!): this is particularly true of the almighty Fugue. Richter is fully aware that there is delicacy amongst this most titanic of struggles, just as he realises the forward-looking transition between third and fourth movements. Here he is not afraid to play the toccata-like passages in as relentless a fashion as possible - almost martellato - to play up the stark contrasts. Only in the Adagio sostenuto did I slightly cheated: he just fails to achieve the rapt, timeless quality at the heart of this movement.


Colin Clarke



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