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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.3 in C major Op.2 No.3 (1794-95) [26:55]
Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat Op.106 Hammerklavier (1818) [43:18]
Bagatelles Op.126; No.1 in G major [3:18]: No.4 in B minor [3:18]: No.6 in E flat major [3:41]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. 18 June 1975, Royal Festival Hall, London
ICA CLASSICS ICAC 5084 [80:49]
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No.27 in E minor, Op.90 (1814) [12:15]
Piano Sonata No.28 in A major, Op.101 (1816) [20:19]
Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat Op.106 Hammerklavier (1818) [42:20]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. 2 June 1965 (Op.90); 18 May 1986 (Op.101); June 1975 (Op.106), various locations
PRAGA DIGITALS PRD/DSD 350 065 [75:10]

The ICA recital opens with a magisterial, commanding, textually aerated but often powerfully conceived performance of Op.2 No.3, possibly the greatest Richter gave of this work. Its outer movements communicate great energy and life-force and the slow movement is a sublime meditation, which Richter further intensifies in an almost visionary way, to create a work that seems to occupy, in this performance, stylistically both the time when it was written but also to look forward many years ahead.
Thereís refined limpidity in the first of the Op.126 Bagatelles and corresponding fire and energy in the Fourth, chosen precisely because this almost violent and disorientating juxtaposition. The sixth Bagatelle seems to fashion both these elements together. It opens here in truly fiery fashion but Richter then spins a rich cantabile, diffusing the incipient vehemence.
ĎI canít work out whether this recording should be issued or not. The concert went well (there was even an old gentleman who leapt up and down in his enthusiasm), there were virtually no wrong notes and everything is clear. I think Iíll risk it and give my permission. Even so, thereís something (what?) that doesnít entirely satisfy me about this interpretation. I donít like myself.í
Richter, writing of the Appassionata, quoted in Bruno Monsaingeonís Sviatoslav Richter, Notebooks and Conversations.
Iím not sure to which concert performance Richter was referring. It could well be another but everything corresponds as well to this BBC performance which, like the rest of the disc, is making its first ever official release via the BBC tapes. Heíd given his first public performance of this sonata only the previous year, in Moscow. The performance is, again, dramatic, sometimes stark, and digitally exemplary with only trivial slips. Maybe what Richter felt lacking was what he found revelatory in a Schnabel recording of an early Beethoven Op.10 sonata: something being revealed as if for the first time.
Sound quality is good, in the main, though the tapes preserve the dry Royal Festival Hall sonics all too clearly, abetted by a level of hiss and a slight tendency toward the clangy in fortes. Itís best to keep a rein on the volume level in the outer movements of Op.2 No.3 and in the finale of the Hammerklavier.
For the record the Bagatelles were first released on a Rococo LP, whilst the Hammerklavier has appeared on a clutch of possibly dubious labels: Musica Viva, Stradivarius and Amadeus.
The other disc under review preserves three late sonatas in performances ranging in date from 1965 (Op.90), May 1986 (Op.101) and June 1975 (Op.106). Opp. 90 and 101 are included in a Brilliant box of some of Richterís Beethoven and Schubert sonata performances [92229 containing 5 CDs] but these contain different performances in very constricted, watery sound preserved, I suspect, via a hand-held recorder. I suggest you bypass that element of the box, however tempting the price, and search elsewhere for performances of the sonatas heard, as here, in fine sound. Itís released as a SACD, though Iím not sure that the effect is greatly enhanced. This Czech disc also contains a performance of the Hammerklavier with a date of June 1975, which is exactly the same month as the BBC recital in the ICA disc. Theyíre not the same performance however, as the Prague was taped on 2 June, just over a fortnight before the Royal Festival Hall reading. However Pragaís sound here ó unlike in the case of the companion sonatas ó is disappointing, being veiled and over-filtered. The London performance is the one to go for.
Jonathan Woolf