Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839- 1881)
Pictures at an Exhibition (1874) [31:05]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat major Op.83 (1942) [17:45]
Piano Concerto No.1 in D flat major Op.10 (1911-12) [13:49]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Karel Ančerl
rec. 1958, Moscow, and 1954, Prague (Concerto)
REGIS RRC1373 [62:31]

Regis has picked up some just-out-of-copyright Richter material. The selection is impeccable, though I sometimes wonder about including a concerto performance alongside a sonata and Pictures. There’s no law against it, as Beecham once said about playing with greater string tone, but it looks a touch odd, especially when there’s a wealth of other material that could have been included. Still, I’ll work on the assumption that having the Prokofiev First Piano Concerto with Ančerl directing is in the ‘no bad thing’ category, irrespective of my mild concerns that it creates an unbalanced programme.

In any case most if not all Richter mavens will have these three recordings. They’re pretty much staples of his discography, though examples exist of each, multiply so.

Richter premièred Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata in 1943. It was pretty much his personal fiefdom for a good while though obviously it’s long since entered the bloodstream of the repertoire. There are numerous surviving performances. There’s a Parnassus [PACD96-001/2] live from Moscow in April 1958, a Russian Disc [RV10094] from 1970, as well as an earlier and visceral reading from Warsaw, live in 1954, which is taken just that bit faster than Regis’s studio recording. But this classic performance has it all; dynamism, tonal breadth, a refined approach to the beautiful slow movement but one that doesn’t ignore its more troubled lyricism; and also an energetic approach to the finale, the nearest Prokofiev came to a kind of Boogie-toccata.

The Concerto is another famous and famously outstanding performance but for one detail which is the recorded balance, which is skewed in favour of the piano. This recording is never going to sound great, but if you look past the imperfections you can enjoy the fine rapport between soloist and conductor, and the energetic though somewhat acidically recorded support of the Prague Symphony. Czech composers and performers had a considerable affinity with Prokofiev, and it shows here. Incidentally Richter had only recently recorded the work in Moscow with Kondrashin.

Not much to be said of his 1958 studio Pictures, except to note that few have ever surpassed him in his commercial and live readings of the work – such detail, and characterisation, nothing skated over, but nothing too exaggerated or hammed up either. The highlight in his performances for me, apart from The Great Gate, is the brilliant scherzando chatter he always manages to find in Limoges. Certainly there is extra adrenalin in probably the most famous of his performances, in Sofia live earlier in 1958, but you won’t be short-changed by this slightly more clement reading – and there’s no audience noise.

With decent transfers and at super budget price, what’s not to like?

Jonathan Woolf

With decent transfers and at super budget price, what’s not to like?