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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770 – 1827)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C major Op. 15 (1801)
Piano Sonata No 22 in F major Op. 54 (1804)
Piano Sonata No 23 in F minor Op. 57 (1804)
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
recorded November 1960 ADD
RCA RED SEAL 82876 594212 [71’59"]

RCA Red Seal has been for many years BMG’s prime label, with all releases being at full price. This new series of re-issues at budget price rather throws some dealers so if you are looking for this disc in a shop beware. And you really should be looking for it as it is a superb disc in every way.

Richter is caught here at the summit of his powers, as is the Boston Symphony under Munch in the concerto. Richter is superb in the sonatas.

The Concerto is perhaps the finer of the first two of Beethoven’s early works in this genre, and the concentration of soloist, conductor and orchestra makes this performance very notable. It has been caught ‘on the wing’ by the RCA engineers, presumably in Symphony Hall, Boston (no details are given in the notes).

The latest CD transfers of old LP recordings have shown us just how poor the original pressings were and how magnificent the master tapes have come up in remastering. Richter has been available in this concerto before (one in Schleswig-Holstein, and another in Bakala), but each of these issues is in worse sound than the present disc. This has to be balanced against the fact that Richter preferred to perform in public and there is a somewhat higher level of spontaneity in those other discs. The present one was recorded on the second of Richter’s visits to the USA when he was still relatively unknown in the West, and his recordings were being greeted with universal delight.

The Concerto recorded on a previous visit was Brahms’ Second, with the Chicago orchestra under Leinsdorf; why not Reiner, I wonder [see footnote]. I have always rated Leinsdorf a little stilted, but there are no such problems here. The orchestra are really on their toes and the dovetailing of their contribution with the soloist is absolute magic. Symphony Hall (I assume) gives up its superb acoustic once again and the results are first rate.

RCA have generously coupled this concerto with two sonatas, written close together, the second of which has become the cornerstone of many pianist’s repertoires. It is good to have them here in such a clear and forward recording with the minimum of background noise to distract the listener, (unlike the chirping bird which disfigures Richter’s recording of the J. S. Bach Well Tempered Klavier also on RCA).

I can’t tell whether these sonatas were also recorded in Symphony Hall, but the recording is similarly clear and bright like that accorded the Concerto.

No. 22 is in two movements and is relatively short about 11 minutes, and is in two roughly equal movements. Beethoven was obviously experimenting in this sonata with rhythm and the drama implicit in this work comes out clearly in the subsequent work.

The Appassionata, long a favourite with music lovers and pianists alike, is here given a very strong and forward moving performance. Richter keeps the momentum moving and the work sparkles under his fingers. Recommended with enthusiasm.

John Phillips


John Philips, in his review of the disc mentions Richter's previous recording in the US of the Brahms 2 in Chicago. He wonders why Leinsdorf was the conductor and not Reiner. My understanding is that Reiner, who was supposed to conduct the recording, took ill, and Leinsdorf filled in at the last minute.

It's interesting to me to note the difference in the orchestra in the Leinsdorf recording, and the earlier Brahms 2 that Reiner conducted with Gilels. While I think that, all things considered, Reiner was a greater conductor than Leinsdorf, I prefer Leinsdorf at the helm. There's a motorific drive in the second movement, and a repose in the third that Reiner doesn't quite equal. While I do hear a little untidiness in the orchestra under Leinsdorf, I think he and Richter present a more satisfying overall experience than Reiner/Gilels.

Anthony Fast



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