When all but the very youngest music-lovers can still
have memories of Richter in the concert hall, when recordings, authorised
and unauthorised, early, middle and late are cropping up from every
imaginable source, does Richter need to be "rediscovered"?
Only recently I had a 1966 Aldeburgh Festival recital to review from
BBC Legends (BBCL 4082-2) and concluded
that, even when the pianist was in a slightly didactic mood, he should
be bought all the same. Well, precisely because of all this plethora
of material, much of it in inferior sound, not all of it presenting
the artist in his best light, especially the performances from the last
years where his Teutonic ancestry was inclined to predominate, we need
to rejoice and rush to the nearest shop when an issue like this comes
along that really lets us "rediscover", in case we had been
in danger of forgetting, that Richter was absolutely and unquestionably
a very great pianist indeed.
The bulk of the release consists of a recital that
Richter gave towards the end of his wildly-acclaimed debut tour of the
United States. After the five programmed concerts at the Carnegie Hall
in October 1960, followed by visits to other American cities and some
recording sessions (Beethoven 1 with Münch plus some Sonatas, Brahms
2 with Leinsdorf), a further Carnegie Hall recital was added by popular
request, on 26th December. Two days later the same programme
was repeated in the Mosque Theatre, Newark, but the encores, apart from
one of the Prokofiev "Visions", were all different. So here
we have the complete Carnegie Hall recital, including the encores, plus
the encores from the Mosque Theatre. Both recitals were recorded in
stereo and approved for release by Richter himself, yet extraordinarily
only 5 of the "Visions fugitives" and the Cinderella Gavotte
actually appeared on LP (some items from the Mosque Theatre recital
proper also came out on LP), and everything here is released on CD for
the first time.
The recordings are extremely good, a little two-dimensional
but clear and responsive to Richterís tonal gradations and with only
the smallest touch of distortion on a few fortes in the upper register.
They are considerably better than the BBC Legends disc and fully comparable
to any good studio-made recording of the time. Plentiful applause has
been included, some of which can be edited out, but not that which punctuates
the "Visions fugitives" (he evidently played them in groups
of two or three). I hope that some future issue might edit this out
as it does make for rather irritating home-listening.
Very often, romantically-inclined pianists do better
in Haydn than in Mozart. Richter was always inclined to be rather severely
logical in the latter composer (as in the Aldeburgh recital); this Haydn
Sonata is a sizzling revelation of the composers true stature in this
field. Itís true that you wonít get from Richter that early-morning
bonhomie in the first movement that we normally associate with
Haydn, but we do get a steely strength and a real passion, much depth
of feeling in the very slow slow movement and a certain grandeur as
well as energy which makes the last movement a real finale to what has
gone before. How much use did Richter make of the sustaining pedal?
Maybe none at all, my ears tell me (even where Haydn asks for it, but
this is a vexed question since Haydnís indicated pedal markings cannot
really be done on a modern piano). Every little note sings unclouded
by resonance from its neighbour, it is a wonderful lesson in creating
a full, rich texture with the fingers.
While the first three of Chopinís Scherzos can just
about "come off" in the hands of any débutant,
the enigmatic no. 4 has to be left to the men. In Richterís hands the
outer sections shoot up like fireworks in the sky, accompanied by a
dazzling display of fingerwork, and then, what singing warmth in the
central melody. The Ballade builds up inexorably to a climax of overwhelming
tension. These go straight into the library of great Chopin performances.
With Rachmaninov the identification between pianist
and composer is complete. No generalised romanticism but an acute analysis
of the interplay of contrapuntal lines, with every "accompanying"
figure precisely weighted in relation to the texture and to its psychological
value. Even the composer himself could scarcely have revealed his own
tormented nerve-ends more powerfully.
Equal composer-performer identification is to be found
in the Prokofiev. While possessed of steely strength, the Sonata performance
also gives the composerís more lyrical aspects their due (some magical
softer textures), and above all never tumbles out of control or loses
sight of the formal shape of the work. A classic among recorded Prokofiev
performances. The brief aphorisms of the "Visions fugitives"
all hit the nail precisely on the head and the Cinderella Gavotte even
suggests that Richter might have had a sense of humour under all that
About the Ravel I am not so sure. We know that, of
the "Gaspard" pieces, "Scarbo" and "Le gibet"
reveal respectively the neurotic and the morbid side of Ravelís personality,
and it is interesting, if a little disconcerting, to find the two pieces
here interpreted in that same light. It is as though the right approach
is being applied to the wrong music. In Giesekingís hands these pieces
have an inner tranquillity without lacking anything in keyboard colour.
Richterís "Vallée" has the desolate intensity of a
Shostakovich slow movement. It is all fascinating in its way, but surely
Giesekingís way is that which the composer himself would have recognised.
It is also a little incongruous to find Ravel played, however colourfully,
over the public address system, as it were. Oddly, this does not happen
in the Debussy, a truly atmospheric and genuinely "impressionistic"
And, give this severe, granitic man some Chopin and
how he makes the piano sing! Untroubled by any technical difficulty,
the A flat Study is resolved as the purest melody, the "Revolutionary"
becomes a dialogue between the hands, and the Mazurka is mindful of
its peasant roots.
In short, if you can only stretch to one CD purchase
this month, make it this one.