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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Richter plays Schumann and the Russians
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Lyudmila Berlinskaya (piano)**
Video region O. Colour
No timings or venues provided
Track-listing at end of review

No other classical pianist has such an extensive discography as Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997). Live recordings — authorized and unauthorized — make up the bulk. It seems that the atmosphere of the live event and the presence of an audience inspired him to produce some of his best recordings. Leslie Gerber’s Parnassus Records has made a substantial contribution to the pianist’s discography with several CD releases, including a series entitled ‘Richter in the Fifties’ which runs to several volumes. This DVD of Schumann and Russian composers follows another in the same series devoted to Beethoven and Chopin and released two years ago.

The DVD here features excerpts from three concerts, the earliest being from 10 October 1976. I have been familiar with this one for several years, and the Beethoven and Chopin works, which complete the recital, are on the other Parnassus DVD I mentioned. Although no venue details are given, I identify it as being from the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory. Included here is the Schumann Faschingsschwank aus Wien, op.26 and two Debussy and one Rachmaninov prelude. Debussy is named an ‘honorary Russian’ in the track-listing. These items have previously been issued on a Music and Arts set (CD 775).

I have always been intrigued as to why Richter appears in a suit and tie in the Debussy and Rachmaninov pieces, and wears a black jacket and bow tie in the Schumann. Maybe we’ll never know. What is obvious though is that he is on absolute top form. Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien is delivered with brilliance, energy and drive. It’s certainly the most compelling version of this delightful work that I have ever heard. It will be noticed that Richter plays from memory. Sometime in the late seventies he started playing his recitals from the score. Maybe his memory had become less reliable. There was another reason — and a pragmatic one at that. He felt that by being less reliant on his memory he could expand considerably his already enormous repertoire. I read somewhere that he has stated that by using the music he could learn several Haydn sonatas, whereas he would be restricted to one if he had had to memorize it.

The remaining Schumann works were recorded on 13 December 1985. Again no venue details are given, but I am pretty certain that this is from a concert given at the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Irina Antonova, the Director of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow for 52 years, from 1961 to 2013, is the page turner in the Blumenstück, Op. 19. Imbued with warmth and lyricism, this is an eloquent realization. The pianist Lyudmila Berlinskaya joins Richter for the selections from the Bilder aus Osten, op.66. The three Paganini Etudes and the Toccata, Op. 7 are brilliantly executed. The four Fugues, Op. 72 are compositions I am not at all familiar with and, having listened to them several times, they don’t particularly impress me. Nevertheless, Richter teases out the polyphonic strands with clarity and definition.

My research tells me that the Tchaikovsky/Rachmaninov programme (4 January 1982) was a Soviet TV broadcast, and has been issued on CD in Japan (Nippon Crown CRCB 7005/6). I couldn’t establish where the concert took place, but it’s a pretty imposing venue. Richter did a great deal to promote more ‘off the beaten track’ music. These sadly neglected Tchaikovsky pieces are given the same attention to detail that he brings to the larger musical canvasses. He seem to get right to the heart of these miniatures, tapping into their emotional content.

These fine restorations have been carried out by Ricardo Pineda, in what is a labour of love for Parnassus. Richter fans like myself, and those looking for a visual record of this great artist, will want this DVD. Let’s hope there’s more to come.

Stephen Greenbank


Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival in Vienna), op.26*
Blumenstück, op.19
Bilder aus Osten, op.66**:-
no.5 in F minor
no.6 in B flat minor
Concert Etudes (6) after Paganini caprices, op.10:-
no.4 in C minor
no.5 in B minor
no.6 in E minor
4 Fugues , op.72
Toccata in C major, op.7
rec. 13 December 1985; 10 October 1976*

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
The Seasons, op.37b:-
V May: Starlit Nights
VI June: Barcarolle
18 Morceaux, op.72:-
no.12 L'espiegle
no.15 Un poco di Chopin
6 Morceaux, op.51:-
no.3 Menuetto-scherzando
no.1 Valse de salon in A flat major
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1875-1943)
Moments musicaux, op.16:-
no.6 in D major
Morceaux de Fantasie, op.3:-
no.3 Melodie
no.4 Polichinelle
rec. 4 January 1982

Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Preludes, Book 1:-
no.3 Le vent dans la plaine (The wind on the plain)
Preludes, Book 2:-
no.8 Ondine

Prelude, op.32, No. 12
rec. 10 October 1976