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Sviatoslav Richter with Orchestra
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Concerto in D minor BMV 1052 [c.25:00]
Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV1050 [c.24:00]
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809)
Keyboard Concerto in D major, H. 18/11 [c.25:00]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Prometheus (The Poem of Fire), Op. 60 [c.23:00]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Oleg Kagan (violin); Marina Vorozhtsova (flute)
Moscow Conservatory Chamber Orchestra/Yuri Nikolayevsky (Bach)
Minsk Chamber Orchestra/Yuri Tsyiruk (Haydn)
All-Union Radio and Central Television Large Chorus; USSR State Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov (Scriabin)
rec. 25 March 1978 (Bach); 18 December 1983 (Haydn); 3 April 1972 (Scriabin)
Mono (Bach/Haydn); Stereo (Scriabin)
DVD; Video NTSC; Region 0

DVDs of Richter are not unheard of; Parnassus have done several before this including Richter and the Russians. This, however, is a rare opportunity to see Richter in live USSR performances with orchestra between 1972 and 1983.

The present four audio-visual recordings are in mono except in the case of the Scriabin which happens also to be the oldest inscription of the four; not that I could detect a stereo signal by ear. The sound is utterly stable and rootedly solid even in the oldest tape - the Scriabin.

If, after this DVD, you have not had your fill of Richter as seen and heard rather than just heard then a search of Amazon should keep you going. EMI Classics had a DVD of Richter with Rostropovich at the 1964-6 Edinburgh Festivals for a start. Add to this, contributions from VAI, Doremi and CBC.

There's no booklet with the Parnassus disc; just the DVD and the usual cover slipped in to the outer transparent pocket. The on-screen menu is simple and is not 'adorned' with a music track - just a dignified silence. The menu offers you the basic facility of choosing which work to hear. The movements of the Bach and Haydn are not separately tracked.

As to the video signal it is what you might expect. Everything is in colour but picture definition is ever so slightly blurry; quite acceptable in the case of the Bach and Haydn items. In the case of the Scriabin we have the equivalent of a so-so VHS signal. It's more blurry than the 1978 and 1983 tracks. The effect - sound and vision - is in fact very atmospheric. Allowances have to be made for such miracles in time travel. The queasy super-lurid red title panel in Cyrillic is one thing but over those titles the performance begins. Scriabin's ecstatic-mysterious inaugural orchestral rumblings are heard while the titles are on-screen and before you get to see the orchestra.

None of these four films involves a plain-vanilla head-on picture of the stage. Each has plenty of movement and changes in camera position so a sense of occasion is conveyed. What you do not get is the sort of close-up of Richter you had for pianists at the last televised BBC Proms, beads of sweat and all. You do catch some impression of Richter's keyboard technique but it's moderately distanced and never homing in at claustrophobic quarters. In each case Richter works with a seated page-turner at his left elbow. The camera(s) take the very occasional sideways look at the audience but these episodes are momentary. At one point the camera catches the length and depth of the seating part of the hall. The audiences are, by the way, pretty quiet.

In the Bach items the orchestra members stand, apart from the cellos and double basses. In Brandenburg 5 the two soloists stand to our left of Richter. Those standing are arrayed in a half circle around the keyboard stool. In the Concerto in D minor the cameraman, from a vantage point at the upper rear of the hall, gradually pulls back so you can see whole auditorium. As for the performance it is, as expected 'old-style' with no historical instruments and radiates a sense of joyous pearly celebration. Richter is totally absorbed and impassive as he is throughout all four items. His confident, rapt and secure playing is perhaps reflected in his hands bouncing high and upwards off the keyboard during the more animated passages. It's a rare flash of flamboyance. Richter, dapper and businesslike for all his muscularity, applauds the conductor at the end. Handshakes are reserved for soloists and section leaders. As for the conductor, he repeatedly taps the piano-case with his baton in approbation. There's more elite and supple playing in Brandenburg 5. From Richter there's a gracious smile at the end. Here is a pianist who gives of himself in a dancing performance that assures the listener that all is in balance in the world.

For the Haydn we change chamber orchestras from Moscow to Minsk. There's also a different conductor, the younger and more obviously emotional, Yuri Tsyiruk. He is physically more demonstrative than Nikolayevsky but there's an overt sense of pin-point control of speed and dynamic. As for the picture, it is a degree or two darker and richer than for the Bach pieces.

Bach and Haydn are comfortable enough cousins but it's a bit of a jolt to be then confronted with Scriabin. There's quite a contrast in style. It's not even his most famous piece (Poem of Ecstasy) but its companion. Here the camera position looks down on Richter in an obviously much more capacious hall and there's some very skilled zooming and cutting in and out by a producer who evidently knows the score. The pianist seems at ease with the ecstatic manner; after all he championed some of Scriabin's solo piano pieces. The effect with Svetlanov and the Soviet Union's elite orchestra and choir, in what I take to be the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, is one of elevated rapture and lissom succulence. Both the music and the camera-control catch a dreamy swaying motion. Svetlanov's magniloquent gestures - caught up in the lofty spirit of the instant - are the very antithesis of Yuri Nikolayevsky's podium style in the Bach items. This is, by the way, a record of Richter's first performance of Prometheus. The audio element of the Scriabin event was issued previously on Parnassus PACD96056.

Rob Barnett



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