Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
The Creatures Of Prometheus – overture; Ballet Music (1801) [5:07]
Piano Concerto No. 1 in C, Op. 15a (1797) [36:51]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B flat Op 83 (1878-81) [51:01]
Announcements included [4:01]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Boston Symphony Orchestra/Charles Munch
rec. 1 November 1960, Symphony Hall, Boston
WEST HILL RADIO ARCHIVES WHRA-6035 [46:36 + 51:22]

Richter’s debut in Boston was hotly awaited. He’d made his American debut in Chicago, an appearance heralded a couple of years before by his compatriot Emil Gilels who said, in effect, ‘if you think I’m good, wait until you hear Richter.’ The chance for Bostonians arrived on 1 November 1960. Some of the radio announcements have been retained, which adds to the frisson of the evening and allows one to note that the announcer pronounces the city’s name as ‘Bawston’.
The evening started with the overture to The Creatures of Prometheus in a taut and trenchant reading directed by Charles Munch with guile and power. The Beethoven C major concerto follows in the first part of the concert. Once again Munch provides valuable, flexible and richly characterised support. It’s noticeable how he vests each movement with its own sense of intensity, supple and energetic in the first movement, rich and poetic in the slow movement, and with a good, firmly etched walking bass line. In the finale the orchestral accents register well, and Richter responds with collaborative excellence. He is communicative and dynamic in the opening, poetic and full of grace in the Largo and even deadpan droll in the finale.
This is just as well, really, as the Brahms Concerto that follows is another matter altogether. Technical problems assail Richter from the very start and these prove to be infectious, as half way through the first movement the horn principal suffers repeated lapses. I have to admit that for much of the first movement I was braced in the approved position for a crash landing. It’s not a catastrophe, and I wouldn’t want to give that impression, but Richter does suffer from a case of the Clifford Curzons for too much of the time. The second movement still has accidents, and Munch responds by stepping on the gas, the percussion thudding away and the trumpets rapping out military turns of phrase. Fortunately Munch also brings out some counter themes that are often subsumed. The slow movement is better still, and a degree of confidence is restored. It’s quite slow but not unconscionably so. Richter can hardly have been unaware that the herald of his visit two years before, Gilels, had recorded this very work in Chicago in February 1958 with Fritz Reiner. In comparison Richter’s performance is too accident prone and tentative, albeit he didn’t have the luxury of a studio recording. And whilst Richter sounds positively bloated alongside the taut Gilels-Reiner, when Gilels re- recorded it with Eugen Jochum his tempos were much more leisurely.
The notes consist only of a Wikipedia biography of Richter. Kit Higginson’s restorations are fine. But, even for the Richter specialist it was a rather mixed evening in Bawston back in November 1960.

Jonathan Woolf

A rather mixed evening in Bawston back in November 1960.