Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Quintet for Piano and Strings in A major, D.667 Trout (1819) [44:01]
Wanderer Fantasy in C major, D.760 (1822) [20:45]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano); Members of the Borodin Quartet (Mikhail Kopelman (violin), Dmitri Shebalin (viola), Valentin Berlinsky (cello)); George Hörtnagel (double-bass)
rec. 18 June 1980 (Trout), Schloss Hohenems, Austria; 11-18 February 1963 (Wanderer), Salle Wagram, Paris
EMI CLASSICS MASTERS 6 31810 2 [64:57]

This is an attractive repackaging of an EMI Redline remastering from 1998. It has Richter’s famous 1963 Wanderer fantasy as a filler.

Richard Wigmore’s otherwise excellent liner-notes begin inauspiciously with an egregiously poor translation from Shostakovich in which he is quoted as extolling the “enormity” of Richter’s talent. That solecism notwithstanding, this disc is testament to the dynamism and eloquence of perhaps the greatest pianist of the 20th century. It is clearly the influence of his artistic vision which dictates the “heavenly length” of the Trout; all five movements are among the slowest on record. Being Richter, one might have expected that kind of originality and those slower tempi are justified by the generation of a hypnotic, mesmeric concentration. Thus the Andante has a kind of dreamy intensity rather different from other interpretations; it is just held together by Richter’s predominant lyricism. Dynamics are carefully shaded and balance amongst the instruments maintained. Despite the sense that Richter is presiding over the business in hand, the strings are not subordinated. Richter is – well, not exactly delicate, but certainly sensitive to his partners and when they need to be more prominent, such as in that heavenly cantilena for viola and cello early in the Andante, he retires as discreetly as one could wish. In fact in the Scherzo I would prefer him to apply a slightly more sprightly and energetic attack rather than the slightly ponderous, massive manner he adopts. The casualty of this weightiness is the insouciance one expects in Schubert’s lighter moments, but even if they do not exactly lilt, there is no shortage of charm in the famous six variations of the fourth movement. When Richter enters, he does so with a lovely lightness before introducing a graver sonority into the chords of the second variation. The third variation is wonderfully fluid, the fourth full of Beethovenian heft. Tempi are steady and the whole performance unfolds naturally before culminating in a carefully structured finale which builds to a robust and truly satisfying climax.

The three members of the Borodin Quartet and cellist Hörtnagel play with deft assurance and constant attention to homogeneity of tone and unity of purpose. I do not get the impression that they are in any sense deferring to their charismatic pianist - each instrument steps forward into the spotlight as required. This is a classic performance to live with, combining elegance with profundity.

We enter another world altogether with the Wanderer, a work which entirely suits Richter the Titan of the keyboard. The 1963 recording sounds wonderfully rich and warm. Richter pounds away brilliantly, despatching the most strenuous and demanding passages with ease. Apparently Richter, before he gave up studio work, invariably recorded in long takes, scorning the splicing in of snippets, and you can hear his absorption in the rapt, broad sweep of the Adagio. Here, from 4:52 onwards, he plays some extraordinarily delicate cascading runs in direct contrast to the prevailing muscularity of the work. The Presto similarly combines fire and finesse, while the Allegro has all the monolithic grandeur of a Bach fugue. Frustrated by his own inability to play what he had written, Schubert famously declared, “The devil may play it”. In the waves of pearlescent sound we are more inclined to hear angelic rather than demonic forces at work.

Ralph Moore

A classic performance to live with, combining elegance with profundity.