This 1967 Richter recital is being heard on disc for the first time, though it’s certainly possible, indeed probable, that tapes have circulated throughout the pianophile community, a subterranean passagework of bewildering complexity. His first Royal Festival Hall recital had been given in 1961 and this is now available on BBC 4021-2 – Prokofiev, Chopin and Debussy were represented on that occasion.
Here we have a quintet of composers in outstanding performances. It’s true that the RFH sonics are hardly the most welcoming in the Western world and that there’s a muffled, clarity-defying quality to the sound – annoying, especially when critical comment at the time was that orchestral concerts had too chilly, too clarity-drenched an acoustic. Not for this solo recital, unfortunately. However, if you listen through this sonic limitation, and in truth it’s not a terminal problem, than you will be rewarded with a superb concert.
Haydn leads the way, in this joyous, magisterial performance, buoyant and life-affirming from the first bars. Caesuri are perfectly timed, pedalling is just and true, and there’s huge refinement and depth to the central Adagio. Tone colours are myriad, and high spirits are released in a finale notable for its brio, energy and communicative élan. Weber’s Third Sonata follows, and this is just as good. It’s a work Richter admired and its Sturm und Drang elements are well realised, the rich cantilena of the slow movement, too. The finale is full of Cavalier ebullience. Richter plays two of Schumann’s Novelletten of which the F sharp minor, by far the bigger work, is full of ardent, flowing drama. Chopin’s Barcarolle has plenty of rubati, plenty of metrical elasticity, and a degree of impatience, but also unrepentant characterisation. Richter plays four of Book II of Debussy’s Préludes, and magnificently too. The sense of colouration here is powerful, the clarity of passagework in Feux d’artifice stupendous – and his sense of drama and evocation is at its zenith in these pieces. Of course his complete performances of Book II can be better appreciated elsewhere, not least in terms of better sound quality – but this performance is still outstanding.
Richter’s many admirers will find much to stimulate and entertain in this 1967 recital, very competently transferred, given the associated sound limitations involved.