> Richter Rediscovered [CH]: Classical Reviews- February 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)

Sonata in C, Hob.XVI/50
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Scherzo no. 4 in E, op. 54, Ballade no. 3 in A flat, op. 47
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Preludes, op. 23/1, op. 32/9, 10, 12
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Jeux díeau, Miroirs: 5. La Vallée des Cloches
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata no. 6, op. 82, Visions fugitives, op. 22/3-6, 8, 9, 11, 14-16
Recorded live, 26 Dec. 1960, Carnegie Hall, NY
Cinderella: Gavotte, op. 95/2, Visions fugitives, op. 22/4
DEBUSSY Claude (1862-1918)

Préludes, Book 1: 5. Les Collines díAnacapri

Etudes, op. 10/10, 12, Mazurka op. 24/2
Recorded live, 28. Dec. 1960, Mosque Theatre, Newark
Sviatoslav Richter (pianoforte)
BMG RCA RED SEAL 09026-63844-2 [2 CDs, 62.07, 50.54]

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 granite.

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" performance.

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.

Christopher Howell

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