Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonatas - No. 19 in C minor, D958; No. 21 in B flat, D960.
Sviatoslav Richter (piano).
Regis RRC1049 [ADD] [78.29]
Available for around £6 from your retailer

Dating from the early seventies and previously available on Olympia OCD335, the great Sviatoslav Richter delivers two astonishing performances of late Schubert. Despite being blessed with an awe-inspiring technique, it is the sheer level of Richter's concentration throughout coupled with his minute attention to detail that makes the two performances on this disc such a compulsive and special experience and ranks them alongside the finest available in the catalogue.

The C minor Sonata (1827/8) becomes a cogent, gripping experience in Richter's hands. From the arresting opening through the bleakest sounds of the development, the music is driven by Richter's masterly control of rhythm. His full tone means that Schubert's sonorities sound with the utmost weight. Even more importantly, Richter, throughout the disc, gives Schubert's inner voices their own life: this generates the vitality which propels the movement along. Furthermore, he refuses to fall into the trap of overly relaxing the tempos in the lyrical passages, with the result that the underlying pulse retains its integrity.

This relentless concentration is at its most impressive in the Adagio. The sheer scope of his conception means that he can give the fullest tone to the chordal passages in the Menuetto without for a second making one think that this is too much for Schubert. In the finale, Richter confronts Schubert's stark juxtapositions head on, without the slightest hint of apology. Perhaps it could be argued that he fails to relax enough, but this would not be in line with his impressive interpretation. A performance, then, to sit alongside the supremely sensitive Uchida (Philips 456 579-2, coupled with D959).

The rhythmic sense which forms the backbone to D958 really comes into its own in the 1972 recording of the enormous final B flat sonata. There is no doubt that Richter definitely heeds the 'Molto moderato' marking, but still secures a seamless legato. With the extra space his chosen speed allows, the low left hand trill response to the initial statement of the first theme is truly disturbing. To take this movement slowly is easy enough: but to follow it through a 25-minute musical argument requires the concentrational stamina of a Richter. Throughout this monumental reading, textures are perfectly (and sometimes exquisitely) controlled.

Richter ensures there is no let up by bringing near stasis to the Andante sostenuto. This seems perfectly fitting, natural even, after the experience of the first movement: the sweet balm of the third movement Scherzo comes as a blessed relief. Only later does one realise that Richter is merely following what Schubert directs, i.e. 'con delicatezza'. The finale is perfectly balanced and shaded.

It remains to refer to some great performances of this Sonata which are currently available: the transcendentally otherworldly Uchida (Philips 456 572-2), the imperial Pollini (DG 427 326-2) and Maria Yudina's live 1947 performance on Dante HPC123 (this latter version deserving of greater currency). But students of Schubert (or of sovereign piano playing) should not be without Richter's account.

Colin Clarke

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