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Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Piano Sonata No.44 in F major Hob. XVI:29 [14:01]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.2 in D minor Op.14 (1912) [19:22]
Légende Op.12 No.6 [3:43]
Visions fugitives Op.22 - Nos. 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 11, 14, 15, 18 (1915-17) [9:38]
Piano Sonata No.8 in B flat major Op.84 (1939-44)[29:20]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. live, Royal Festival Hall, London, 8 July 1961
BBC LEGENDS BBCL4245-2 [75:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Though many BBC Legend recital discs collate broadcast material recorded from more than one concert a number have retained their integrity, a policy that – on balance – I tend to favour. This is one such example, drawing as it does on a recital given by Richter at the Royal Festival Hall on 8 July 1961. I suppose the clamour for it will be balanced by the surety that there is so much live Richter at large that it needs to have a special claim on the collector’s wallet.
I think one such component is the Haydn Sonata, his sole public performance of it before the 1990s, so one could say that interest will accrue given its rarity value. This is balanced by Prokofiev, a far more obviously stable part of his repertoire over the years. Another feature that might grab the listener is the fact that this was Richter’s London debut.
Certainly it took a modicum of daring back then to start with the Haydn; the audience takes its time to meet him halfway, coughing away, as London audiences always do. Richter brings out the patrician elements in the opening but doesn’t fail to evoke the more quixotic elements of the writing either – there is characteristically pellucid clarity in the passagework. Reflectiveness saturates the slow movement, whilst there is energy, vitality and just the right quality of wit in the Minuet finale.
His Prokofiev Second Sonata is powerfully poised, few before or since having quite so acute an access to its character and sensibility as Richter. In particular the Scherzo is articulated with mesmerising dynamism and control, though no less in the troubled Andante do we find Richter’s characterisation at a peak of engagement and integrity. The incorrigible dry wit of the finale – doubtless Richter saw an analogue here between Haydn and Prokofiev – is effortlessly projected, so too the music’s colouristic potential laced with the rhythmic vitality of a thoroughbred.
After a pensive and beautifully voiced Légende Richter plays ten of the Visions fugitives to which he brings burnished elegance and tartness equally and in profusion. The highlight for me is the sheer puckishness of his way with XI. Finally we have Sonata No.8, a work he first heard the composer play, though Gilels premiered it and Richter always professed the highest regard for his contemporary’s performance. He also thought the Eighth the ‘richest’ of the sonatas and along with the Fourth and Ninth his favourite. Richter’s playing encapsulates a certain hauteur, and is viewed in one long architectural line. He controls and corrals the long first movement in a particularly impressive way, and vests the central panel of the sonata with a dynamic, uncompromisingly ochre-hued vivid grimness.
In all then this recital does extend a definite hold, even acknowledging the plethora of other Richter in-concert performances. With uncomplicated sound quality and good notes this definitely does exert a strong pull on the collector’s wallet.
Jonathan Woolf


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