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Sviatoslav Richter (piano) in the 1950s - Parnassus
Volume One

Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Five piano transcriptions from Cinderella
Quarrel Op. 102 No. 3
Gavotte Op. 95 No. 2
Autumn Fairy Op. 97 No. 3
Orientalia Op. 97 No. 6
Waltz, Cinderella and the Prince Op. 102 No. 1

Ten Visions fugitives Op. 22 Nos. 3-6, 8-9, 11, 14-15, 18
Piano Sonata No 7 in B flat Op. 83
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Toccata in C Op. 7
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)

Images Book II
No. 1 Cloches à travers les feuilles – two versions
Frederic CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Etude in E Op. 10 No. 3 – two versions
Etude in C Op. 10 No. 1
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Prelude in G minor Op. 23 No. 5
Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12
Prelude in F sharp Op. 23 No. 1
Prelude in A Op. 32 No. 9
Prelude in B minor Op. 32 No. 10
Prelude in G sharp minor Op. 32 No. 12
Prelude in A flat Op. 23 No. 8
Prelude in F Op. 32 No. 7
Prelude in C Op. 32 No. 1
Prelude in B flat minor Op. 32 No. 2
Prelude in B flat Op. 23 No. 2
Prelude in D Op. 23 No. 4
Prelude in C minor Op. 23 No. 7
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Grand Sonata in G Op. 37
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

Valse oubliée No. 1
Recorded in Moscow in 1954 and 1958
PARNASSUS PACD 96-001/002 [2 CDs: 141.20]



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Volume Two
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Variations on ABEGG Op. 1
Three Fantasiestücke from Op. 12
Aufschwung No. 2
Warum? No. 3
Nicht Schnell No. 7

Humoresque in B flat Op. 20
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Piano Sonata No. 2 in G sharp minor Op. 19
12 preludes Op. 11
Piano Sonata No. 6 Op. 62
Modest MUSSOURGSKY (1839-1881)

Pictures at an Exhibition
Piotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23
With USSR State Symphony orchestra/Nathan Rakhlin
Recorded in Moscow 1955 and 1957
PARNASSUS PACD 96-003/004 [2 CDs: 145.37]



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Volume Three
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

From Années de Pèlerinage
Vallée d’Obermann
Au bord d’un source
La Sposalizio
Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este
Sonetto 123 del Petrarca

Venezia e Napoli
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13 Pathétique
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)

Sonata No. 3 in D minor Op. 49
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)

Pavane pour une infante défunte
Gaspard de la nuit, No. 2 Le Gibet
Jeux d’eau
Valses nobles et sentimentales
Miroirs, No. 4; Alborada del gracioso
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Etude-tableau in E flat Op. 33 No. 6
Prelude in C minor Op. 23 No. 7
Prelude in B flat minor Op. 32 No. 2
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Gavotte from Cinderella Op. 95 No. 2
Recorded in Moscow 1954 and 1958
PARNASSUS PACD 96-005/006 [2 CDs 145.22]



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Volume Four
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Sonata No. 9 in C Op. 103
Gavotte from Cinderella Op. 95
Sonata No. 6 Op. 82
Dimitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Eight Preludes and Fugues from Op. 87
Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 15, 18 and 23
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)

Vers la flamme
Poeme Op. 32 No. 1
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor Op. 37
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)

Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs
With USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Hermann Abendroth

Recorded in Moscow 1954, 1955 and 1956
PARNASSUS PACD 96-013/014 [2CDs: 153.03]



This cache of Richter material from the 1950s takes its significant place in the past decade’s worth of boxed releases, single retrospectives and other unreleased items. Many companies have rushed to issue such material. DG (singles and doubles), Decca, EMI, Philips and Olympia amongst others have had valuable contributions to make to the extensive Richter discography. This has led to some confusion along the way. To these must be added the notable existence of two large boxes from Melodiya and Praga (Richter in Prague). The former collates discs made between the late 1940s and the 1960s – live and studio recordings. The latter is an even more extensive sweep, covering over thirty years from the 1950s to the late 1980s. In terms of repertoire novelty and breadth the Melodiya possibly wins on points but the Praga is full of the most remarkable pianism, in generally better sound (Melodiya’s brittle recording quality is sometimes an issue) though when the Praga sound quality is poor it is really poor. Into the lists comes Parnassus with these four slimline doubles – eight discs, predominately featuring Richter in recital (the exceptions are Concerti –Tchaikovsky in B flat minor and Beethoven C minor with Rakhlin and Abendroth respectively).

There really are too many examples of Richter’s untrammelled greatness to dwell on them in exhaustive detail. Additionally though it will, I’m sure, read badly it will be helpful to know which are items new to the current Richter discography, so apologies in advance for the ensuing less-than-lucid prose. Releases of this importance however deserve a degree of scrupulous examination. The first disc collates two Moscow recitals of 1954 and 1958. All of these recitals were recorded there and the tapes of these concerts were discovered in the early 1990s. Richter programmed Quarrels from Prokofiev’s Cinderella, though less so the other transcribed movements, which seems to make this a discographic first. I say ‘seems’ because things are always changeable and fluid when it comes to Richter on record. His 1958 Quarrels is brittle, fractious and wonderfully characterised. The Autumn Fairy is devilish and though there are some problems with the master tape on Waltz, Cinderella and the Prince, the playing itself is unquestionably vivid. He plays ten of the Visions fugitives. Six and nine were favourites of long-standing. Other recorded evidence exists but this is the most extensive concentration of the works that we have. He recorded five of them for RCA in New York in 1960 (Nos. 6, 8, 9, 15 and 18). Whether fluent or limpid or full of delicate tracery and mystery Richter lavishes exquisite care on them. The Seventh Sonata that follows was taped shortly before his Melodiya commercial LP of June 1958. It is believed to be the only live performance in existence of the work that he premiered. It shares many of the virtues of the commercial disc whilst adding an even more concentrated sense of drama. The leonine power of the Allegro inquieto, the utter clarity of its repeated figures, the coiled bass are all of optimum strength. Allied to this the austere relaxation into lyrical subjects is judged to perfection. The sonata’s incipient lyricism emerges more concretely in the Andante caloroso (a movement that for some doubtless unfathomable reason I’ve always found bizarrely Elgarian) which Richter inflects with intensely explosive drive in the faster section. The bristling and striding Precipitato finale is, simply, unstoppable. The Schumann Toccata is memorably heated but not inflexibly motoric with grand gestures but is pipped to the post as the earliest extant example by a Budapest performance that was once on AS. Clamorous applause greets the shorter pieces – Debussy, Chopin, Rachmaninov. The Chopin Etude Op. 10/3 was one that had featured in the famous Sofia recital a couple of months previously. It appears again, slower and less pressing in a companion performance four years later, on the second CD in this set. The Rachmaninov is powerfully driven. Debussy’s Cloches from Book II of Images is one of two on this set. The other dates from a recital four years later and they are both marvellous, the later one very slightly more measured. Tchaikovsky’s Grand Sonata in G has never held much of a foothold in the repertoire. The 1954 recital is the earlier of the two Richter performances around (and it pre-empts the commercial LP by a couple of years). It is full of powerful poetry and genuine sensitivity. Coupled with it from that December 1954 recital come a generous selection from Rachmaninov’s Preludes (Op. 23 and 32). He recorded the same selection of Op. 32 six years later in New York with the addition of No. 6. Of Op. 23 with which he was more generally taken we already have an attractive selection to which this acts as a splendid adjunct.

Volume Two dates from 1952, 1955 and 1957. We start with Schumann. Like the more neurotic Horowitz, Richter was a great Schumann player. There is some distortion/deterioration on the tape initially but it gradually reduces. He did record the Abegg Variations, in Rome and Venice in 1962, a performance that has seen CD release but it’s good to have this performance, notwithstanding the splintery sound that tends to fracture above forte. The playing itself is frequently breathtaking as is the case in the three Fantasiestücke from Op. 12. Aufschwung is incendiary with an intensely motoric left hand, saturated with Richter’s coruscating lyricism. Warum? catches the wandering precision perfectly and Nicht Schnell is airborne in a moment. The sound quality improves for Humoresque, which he was to record for Melodiya the following year. I’ve not heard that studio performance but it would be something if it matched the swashbuckling dynamism, implacable bravura, rapt beauty and the intimacy of this one. The 1952 recital gives us Scriabin’s Sixth Sonata and Pictures at an Exhibition. He made a commercial recording of the Sixth in June 1955. Here things are rather boxy acoustically – but Richter conveys its saturnine intensities with almost pointillist tracery and adamantine fire. Pictures at an Exhibition predates that famous Sofia performance by five and a half years. Richter starts with his accustomed briskness. His accents in the Ox Cart are rather heavier than they were to become, the clogging diminuendo at the close pictorial in its immediacy. Still, the hypnotic insistence of Cum mortis in lingua mortua is as devastating as ever it was to become. The pearl jewelled tone of the Ballet of the Chicks is unmistakable, the alternating elegance and outburst of Tuileries magnetic. Baba Yaga is more sharply etched rhythmically than later and the accents are more vertiginous. The Great Gate starts much cooler and quieter than Sofia. Here he doesn’t bathe in quite so much pedal and whilst extremely colourful he is slower in 1952. The tonal and expressive contrasts are more obviously romanticised here. Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in B flat minor is conducted by the volatile Nathan Rakhlin. Those who have Richter with Ancerl, Mravinsky, Karajan – or even the Kondrashin (on Revelation) - won’t necessarily race to throw away their discs. This is quite rawly recorded but it is a most dramatic performance, with oases of reflective intimacy in the first movement. The USSR State’s distinctive woodwind players are to the fore and there are eloquently moulded string lines. The exigencies of a live performance hint at the problems. The flautist in the slow movement has his flat moments and Richter makes a few minor fluffs along the way. I’d call them endearingly inconsequential but then I remember how some of my colleagues wage a Howard Hughes-like battle with the merest split note…. Richter and Rakhlin take what it’s most apposite to call a dramatically measured approach to the finale and their collaboration is eminently sympathetic.

The Third Volume again catches recitals a few years apart – 1954 and 1958. The later recital contains rare gems. Of the Liszt works only one - Aux cyprès de la Villa d’Este – exists in any other form. None was commercially recorded, as far as I’m aware. Vallée d’Obermann is a memorable performance, magisterial, conveyed through entirely musical means, with a devastatingly virtuosic conclusion that plainly stuns the audience. My only complaint is that the sound, whilst good, accentuates a slight tendency to clangour. It’s unfortunate that the audience were in such bronchial form during La Sposalizio but they receive a suitably intense performance. The pieces from Années de Pèlerinage were the only ones Richter played but they didn’t stay too long in his active repertoire so we should be grateful that they are here and in such decent sound. Richter never played a cycle of Beethoven’s Sonatas – he limited himself to twenty-two of the canon. He recorded the Pathétique in 1959 and this Parnassus performance, a year earlier, is the only known live example in existence. He achieves a real balance between reflection and assertion in the first movement, his rubati being marked but not extreme, his playing incisive and commanding. Sometimes in the slow movement I wondered at his intensely staccato phrasing – and this is reserved phrasing, patrician but relatively aloof – but the rondo finale is excellently carried off. The recital from December 1954 shares some of the repertoire and musical imperatives of those captured by Praga in their box – a case in point is their May 1954 Weber Sonata in D minor. Here we have the same sonata a few months later, in December of that year and it’s again a case of Richter taking a piece by the scruff of its neck and breathing lordly life into it. This three movement sonata might not be seen ostensibly to bear the weight of Richter’s touch in the opening Allegro feroce but he really makes it come alive, the slow movement too and he is lissom in the finale. The Ravel selection is often plain staggering. Not only do we have the only known Le Gibet from Gaspard but we have a spectacular Alborada, an infinitely languorous Pavane, a glinting, glittering, mercurial Jeux d’eau and the urbane virtuosity of his Valse nobles et sentimentales.

The first disc in the fourth volume is given over to Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Scriabin. The Prokofiev is the Ninth Sonata, dedicated to and first performed by Richter. This September 1956 performance shortly precedes that on Praga. The commercial LP followed a couple of years later and only a 1980 Tokyo recital is known to have survived of his other performances of it (that can be found on Memoria). Doubly valuable is that the second disc contains an equally powerful performance of the Sixth Sonata from the following month. The powerful attack and variegated colours are striking, imperishably alive here. Another performance is preserved from a Prague recital, there is the commercial New York LP and a miscellany of others (Leningrad, Locarno and Tokyo amongst them). Richter actually recorded a selection of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues in the Domovina Studios in Prague, in November 1956, a couple of years before the composer recorded his immensely moving but technically sometimes shaky performances of his selection. When he was in Paris Richter added another selection in 1963 and whilst he did record individually another couple he never set down anything like the cycle – maybe around half. There are some splutterers audible in the doubtless cold audience in Moscow in 1958 but nothing intrudes on Richter’s grandeur and dynamism. He exudes a leonine power in the Prelude of No. 3, and increasing drama in No. 6’s Prelude as well as real delicacy in its Fugue. He conjures up elfin whispers in the Prelude of No. 7 in A, beautiful voicings in its Fugue and demonstrates dramatically fast fingers in the Prelude of No. 2. Throughout the whole of that in F minor he is withdrawn and elliptical and in the D flat Prelude (No. 15) he is portentous, wilful, mocking, securing an elfin, very much on its toes, middle section. Even that didn’t prepare me for the almost manic violence of Richter’s Fugue in D flat.

The final disc also includes a reading of Beethoven’s C minor Concerto conducted by Abendroth. Commercial discs with Sanderling (1962) and Muti (1977) do exist, backed up by live performances with Rowicki, Bakala, Ancerl and Kondrashin. This was the only time Richter worked with Abendroth and is a fine performance somewhat vitiated by sour-ish wind tuning in the first movement. Abendroth is scrupulous about a heavy bass line – highly emphatic – and Richter is on his accustomed fine form though when he comes to the first movement cadenza he simply blazes away, his left hand very heavily italicised, overpowering the right with some splashes. This is Simon Barere time and not for me. In the slow movement I found some of Richter’s phrasing just a little unsettled but the finale is energetic and good. Not otherwise overly recommendable however. The Bartók Peasant Songs weren’t to be commercially recorded until 1972 in Moscow so this is a good opportunity to hear them in crypto-embryonic form – melancholy, flighty, stern, dancing, deliciously lilting, a cornucopia of life and colour.

It’s been an exhilarating experience listening to these eight discs of previously unreleased Richter in Moscow. There are, as I’ve noted, some audio problems and it’s in general the case that the sound is rarely "comfortable." Against that – and it’s such a minute price to pay - comes the immense rarity of much of the music, the sense too of even greater reserves of fire and power in his playing, the fresh, sometimes overpowering drive and serenity he was capable of imparting. Parnassus haven’t gone in for particularly fancy or extensive notes – plain, to the point, but presenting the music as the focus of the life-force that Richter generated whenever he appeared.

Jonathan Woolf


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