Richter in Leipzig - The Complete Recital of 28 November 1963
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata in E major, Op. 109 (1820) [18:09]
Piano Sonata in A flat major, Op. 110 (1821) [20:33]
Piano Sonata in C minor, Op. 111 (1822) [23:53]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Ballade in G minor, Op. 118, No. 3(1892-93) [3:29]
Intermezzo in E flat minor, Op. 118, No. 6 (1892-93) [5:16]
Intermezzo in C, Op. 119, No. 3 (1892-93) [2:19]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Nocturne in F major, Op. 15, No. 1 (1830-31) [5:09]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. Leipzig Gewandhaus, 28 November 1963. ADD
PARNASSUS PACD 96032 [78:52]

Two well-known features of Richter’s discography are the avoidance of complete cycles - not even all five Beethoven concertos - and the large number of duplications. For many collectors this second aspect presents no problem. Any dedicated fan of Richter would have to own every recording he ever made, as his tremendous authority, concentration and risk-taking so often combine to create a riveting experience. The fact that the vast majority of Richter’s recordings are of live performances is a great advantage, as he so often generates a sense of pushing boundaries and a tangible sense of risk. Many of the live performances of the greatest artists - such as Richter - are essentially probing and this kind of more “dangerous” approach is likely to yield breathtaking results. In short, for Richter fans this will be an essential purchase.

Whereas Mozart’s music was not an entirely natural part of Richter’s musical personality, as he himself admitted, Beethoven’s most certainly was. Richter perfectly understood the explosive, unpredictable, severe and uncompromising aspects of Beethoven’s music, as well as the more intimate and tender. Alfred Brendel may have captured more of Beethoven’s humour and eccentricity, but otherwise I cannot think of another pianist I would rather hear in the three late sonatas. Beethoven’s greatest works convey a sense of danger in their extending of boundaries; there is very little that is comfortable about them. The finest performances project these characteristics. Never sentimental or precious, Richter seems to me to present the unvarnished truth, sometimes harsh or painful, but always honest and deeply moving.

To be selective, I would pick out from the successive movements of Op. 109: the immediate sense of lyrical, passionate involvement and subsequent explosions of energy in (i), the tempestuous character of (ii) and the marvellous inwardness of the theme itself in (iii). These observations merely hint at the sheer range of expression and tone which Richter commands.

In Op. 110 there is the delightful simplicity of the opening, then the ideal, genuinely “leggiermente” contrast at bar 12; the determined strength of (ii) – though the “trio” section’s groups of descending quavers are a little awkward; in (iii) the unforced majesty of the fugue, with the first fortissimo truly and mightily realised, while Richter’s extraordinary cantabile enhances the arioso sections. Incidentally, the admirable simplicity of this sonata’s opening is a quality with which Richter endows late Beethoven in general. Many pianists seem to strive for profundity or transcendence in every bar, whereas Richter has an infallible instinct for a kind of natural, uncomplicated eloquence, his slow tempos never too slow. This is again evident at the opening of the Arietta movement from Op. 111, following a breathtaking interpretation of the first movement. The increasingly complex variations themselves find Richter in all-conquering, all-embracing mood – amounting to a sublimely satisfying experience.

As if this were not enough, there are no fewer than four encores. Apparently Richter did not care to play encores, except when he felt dissatisfied with his playing in the scheduled pieces and wanted to compensate his audience. One can only disagree and be doubly thankful! I find the performance of Chopin’s F major Nocturne from Op. 15 particularly mesmerising.

Audience noise is present and sometimes intrusive, but I don’t believe anyone will be driven mad by it. The piano sound is not the most ingratiating but I would be surprised if it seriously detracted from anyone’s enjoyment. For me this is a disc to treasure.

Philip Borg-Wheeler