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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No.16 in A minor, D845 (1825) [35:47]
Piano Sonata No.17, D850 (1825) [39:21]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. 14 June 1956 (D850); other, unknown
PRAGA DIGITALS PRD/DSD 350 067 [75:20]
As ever, Richterís discography proves convoluted. The performance of D850 has already been issued by Praga on PR254031, and Iím pretty sure it was also available on Music & Arts CD-957. Its latest incarnation on Praga is in hybrid SACD form, but I donít think any perceived benefit in sound quality is so significant that it means jettisoning those previous discs in favour of this one. For all the documentation, Iím not quite sure as to the provenance of D845. Up to this point the best known version of D850 was the Moscow one of 1956, given quite close to this June 1956 concert; and in the case of D845, a March 1957 Moscow recital. Both these last two were on Melodiya, as well as ancillary labels.
 
Richterís recorded history is in a state of constant flux, not least when covertly recorded in-house releases (cassette-under-the-overcoat jobs) are themselves superseded by official tapes from the concert in question. This last happened when a BBC recital was made available for the first time officially in correspondingly good sound. The recording quality in these Praga sonatas is, however, reasonable enough.
 
In the Sonata in D (D850) Richter sounds, frankly, more bad-tempered than poised and the Allegro vivace marking draws from him a machine-gun attack, relentless and at times disagreeable, that stands at a complete remove from the more Viennese imperatives of Curzon in his great Decca recording of the work. Thereís a degree of scrambled phrasing amidst the brimstone. The slow movement (Ďcon motoí) is decidedly slow, as was so often Richterís way with Schubert, but cumulatively speaking it rather lacks intimacy. True, it has gruff nobility, a rugged and strong power behind it, but tone colours are muted and the whole thing is rather downbeat, lacking Curzonís moments of phrasal elation. Richter is at his best in this sonata in the finale where accenting is more alive and his playing is very much more approachable.
 
The A minor sonata receives a direct, forceful reading and not without many points of interest. The finale, once again, goes well, probably best of all the movements, with Richter relaxing as far as he will. Itís clear that he sees the Sonata in D through a glass darkly and this perception colours much of this companion sonata too.
 
It all makes for layers of complexity in the Richter discography.
 
Jonathan Woolf