> BBC Legends: Sviatoslav Richter [TB]: Classical Reviews- March 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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BBC Legends: Sviatoslav Richter
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Sonata No. 37 in E major, Hob.XVI:22
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Nocturne in F major, Opus 15 No. 1
Nocturne in E minor, Opus 72 No. 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 11 in B flat major, Opus 22
Eroica Variations, Opus 35
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Symphonic Etudes, Opus 13
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

12 Preludes (from Opus 23 & Opus 32)
Sviatoslav Richter
Rec 16 June 1967, Snape Maltings (Haydn, Chopin Opus 72), 20 October 1968, Royal Festival Hall (Chopin Opus 15, Beethoven, Schumann), 8 October 1969, Free Trade Hall, Manchester (Rachmaninov)
BBC LEGENDS BBCL 4090-2 [2CDs: 68.50+75.01]


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There is no question that Sviatoslav Richter was one of the great artists of the 20th century, and this 2CD set finds him at the top of his form. The repertoire is music which was closely associated with him, and he has special things to say about all the composers featured. The performances are live, drawn from the annual tours he undertook during the late 1960s.

Full marks should go to both the original BBC engineers and to those responsible for the CD remasterings. The sound is very good, to the extent that one is aware of the subtle changes of acoustic and perspective from venue to venue. The audiences are well behaved on the whole, though there are occasional unwanted contributions, for example at the beginning of the Beethoven scherzo, when it seems Richter was ready before some of his listeners.

These are real interpretations, and Richter is never content with the routine. He takes risks, not least in the Beethoven Sonata, when the later statements of the principal first movement material are characterised with different dynamic shadings which stretch the letter of the score but bring an extra dimension of intensity. His special feeling for Beethoven is continued in the famous Eroica Variations, which do build heroically in a sweep of momentum which makes the whole affair much more than the sum of its parts.

It is temptingly easy to underestimate Haydn's sonatas in comparison with those of Beethoven and Mozart. But as Chris de Souza points out in his admirable booklet notes, Haydn composed more such pieces than the other two combined. The spontaneity of manner of the E major Sonata is brilliantly articulated by Richter, and the slow movement is particularly imaginatively done.

The two Chopin Nocturnes are idiomatically phrased and shaped, although there is a tendency towards closely placed microphones, in the sense that the louder passages sound unduly loud in the general context, more so than the ambience of the performance might suggest.

Schumann's Symphonic Etudes, like the Beethoven variations, generate a sweeping momentum and a visionary intensity. But the highlight of the whole collection is surely the 1969 Manchester performance of the Rachmaninov Preludes, Richter's own selection of twelve pieces from Opus 23 and Opus 32. Both in the more subdued and the more extrovert of these the playing is peerless. While the sound of some of the more recent recordings of this music may be more sophisticated, it is Richter who will provide the benchmark by which all others are judged.

Terry Barfoot


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