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Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Sonata in B minor, S. 178 [30.46]
Funerailles, from S. 154 [11.14]
Transcendental Etudes, S. 139:
No. 1 Prelude [0.52]
No. 2 Molto vivace [1.50]
No. 3 Paysage [5.02]
No. 5 Feux follets [3.25]
No. 7 Eroica [4.33]
No. 8 Wilde Jagd [4.03]
No. 10 Allegro agitato molto [3.42]
No. 11 Harmonies du soir [8.44]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. S. 178 Carnegie Hall, New York, 18 May 1965; S. 154 Budapest, 11 February 1958; S. 139 Moscow, 1956. ADD
PALEXA CD-0537 [74.35]

This is arguably the greatest of the four ‘live’ Richter accounts of the Liszt Sonata. It has the drama and power lacking (comparatively speaking) in the 1966 Livorno performance (Philips). There’s also a sense grandeur and space missing from the over-driven 1966 Aldeburgh account (BBC Legends), and he brings even more conviction than in the wonderful 1965 Moscow reading (Brilliant Classics). Taken from a Carnegie Hall recital (part of a series he gave) just a week after Horowitz’s famed ‘return’, this is a towering achievement, a performance of muscle and poetry. It has an incredible sense of purpose, the whole work being united with a structural grasp given to only a few. One feels that Richter has his sights set on the end right from the beginning.

The opening semi-chromatic descent is dark and abysmal, each note taking the listener deeper into the void. The pianissimo lyrical sections take on a profound spirituality. At 14’07" the huge but never forced chords lead to right-hand octaves of the most passionate cantabile and fluid flexibility, which make one forget the percussive nature of the piano. Listen also to the subtlety of Richter’s expression at 16’35", or the shimmering colours he finds at 25’02" and the amazing ease and lightness with which he negotiates the difficult figuration at 25’16". Indeed, this performance demonstrates how Richter could readily combine heart with intellect, passion with stoicism and reserve, power with tenderness; and never do these elements conflict.

The sound is not as good as for the Carnegie Hall recital from 1960 on ‘Richter Rediscovered’, but it is an improvement on the 1990 Philips issue, the last and only CD release.

Funerailles gets better and better after a slightly matter-of-fact start, and Richter invests all the necessary doom and gloom, sublimity and drive to make this extremely impressive. The selection from the Transcendental Etudes from Moscow 1956 (he never played the whole set, but these are all the pieces he did play) are a first release, in atrocious sound but valuable since these are the only 1950s performances of Nos. 7, 8 and 10. The performances are on the rushed and exaggerated side, with No. 2 in particular pushed to distortion and full of wrong notes, but Feux Follets is utterly magical, though perhaps less varied than the 1958 accounts from Sofia and Moscow.

The liner notes are substantial and interesting, and praise must go to Palexa for reissuing such rare recordings.

Alex Demetriou


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