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Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata No. 16, D845 [35:20]
Piano Sonata No. 17, D850 [39:06]
Impromptu No. 2 [4:10]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. 1956 (D845), 1957 (D850), Moscow. ADD stereo
ALTO ALC1415 [78:54]

Yet more Melodiya recordings out of copyright permit Alto to release this re-issue of the under-recorded Richter in a favourite composer, playing two sonatas more substantial than their predecessors. Richter performed only eleven of Schubert’s twenty-one sonatas and there is no consistency to the location, engineering and resultant sound quality of those recordings we have. The sound here is obviously somewhat compromised; it is mid-50’s Soviet stereo: somewhat brittle and close-up but no great barrier to appreciation of Richter’s special sonority, even if Richter’s emphatic, fortissimo chordal climaxes can shatter and some clangourousness is especially noticeable in the “Con moto” of No. 17.

Richter has a special gift for applying rubato to the point of pulling tempi about without disrupting the coherence of Schubert’s frenetic, and even rambling, outpourings of melody. D845 is one of the quirkiest in the oeuvre but Richter solves its challenges and makes something meaningful of its superficial inconsistencies. Those who dislike his aggressive manner will not be moved but cannot deny his mastery, especially in the extraordinarily deftly played finale, where passages of percussive defiance alternate with those of quicksilver fleetness. In addition, he exhibits considerable delicacy in his execution of the Trio section of the Scherzo, so this account is not all by any means an exhibition of Blitzkrieg on Schubert.

The Sonata in D major D850 receives an equally bold, even ferocious, interpretation. I like my Schubert played with the force and vigour of Beethoven, not etiolated into wispy strands of filigree pianism. This is in any case a more unified and conventional work than D845, not requiring Richter to exercise any spell over its structure to achieve consistency. I hear no impatience or lack of tenderness in his execution of the slow second movement and he chomps his way through the Scherzo con gusto. The ostensibly silly little tune of the finale is rescued from banality by Richter’s brisk, ironic manner, as if acknowledging its humble beginnings and daring us to accuse Schubert of trivialisation once its intricate ornamentation is underway.

The live recording of the Impromptu No. 2 serves as a brief encore. The sound is muddier and more distant but the Úlan and confidence of Richter’s delivery sweep all before.

Whatever its sonic deficiencies, this is the only recording available of Richter performing No. 16 and the only other recording of his playing D850 is of a live performance from Prague given in the summer same year as this studio version; as such, these are indispensable to Richter devotees, especially at this bargain price.

Ralph Moore

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