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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


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Edvard GRIEG (1843-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor, opus 16 [28:42]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Piano Concerto in A minor, opus 54 [30:09]
Papillons, opus 2 [14:38]
Sviatoslav Richter, piano
Orchestre National de l’Opéra de Monte Carlo, Lovro von Matačić, conductor
Concerti recorded 25-30, September 1974 at the Palais Garnier, Monte Carlo
Papillons recorded live in concert, 21 October 1962, Florence, Italy ADD
EMI CLASSICS Great Recordings of the Century 567982-2 [73:49]


There is little to be said about these two stalwarts of the concerto repertory that has not already been said. Here are two masterpieces whose compact construction, solo and orchestral virtuosity and melodic invention is so great, so refined, that to criticize them now makes any writer seem malicious. Indeed, these pieces have earned their place in eternity, and rightly so.

So what is to be gained from the purchase of this, the gazillionth version of these works? Ah, plenty friends! These are performances of uncommon perfection from one of the greatest and most enigmatic of all pianists. Are there any surprises in what the often-eccentric Sviatoslav Richter does to these warhorses? Surprisingly, no there are not. Presented here, there is instead a portrait of a master at home with masters. This is playing marked by flawless technique, complete good taste, and not a note out of place.

What is a real shame is that so great an artist made these recordings with so second rate an orchestra. These are surveys that are only really valuable thanks to Richter’s incomparable artistry. Some frightfully out of tune playing in the winds and brass even further mars the sloppy and sometimes uneven ensemble, whose sense of rhythmic cleanliness is often lacking. This malady is particularly noticeable in the Schumann, where some of the splendid orchestral interludes suffer severe damage by the glaring intonation problems.

That aside, these are still must-haves for anyone who loves the great romantic piano literature. Even a not-so-hot orchestra is unable to spoil the grand artistry of the late great Mr. Richter. The 1962 recital performance of Papillons is quite the added bonus. They are perfectly executed. Richter takes uncanny delight in bringing out the individual characters represented in Schumann’s imaginative little essays.

Bryce Morrison has written an excellent essay on the person of Richter and his manner with this music. The now thirty-plus year old analogue recordings hold their own quite nicely, and are warm and vibrant. Every serious record collector probably has this recording in some guise or another. If not, the mid-price EMI Great Recordings series, which is so much more nicely packaged now than when it was first started some years ago, is a bargain indeed. Grab this one.

Kevin Sutton

see also review by Christopher Howell

Great Recordings of the Century



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