BBC Legends – Sviatoslav Richter

0 of 5 stars

Sonata in A minor, D784
13 Variations on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner, D576
Fantasiestücke, Op.12 [selection]
Images, Book II – Cloches à travers les feuilles

Sviatoslav Richter (piano)

Schubert Sonata recorded on 31 March 1979 in the Royal Festival Hall, London; the rest recorded on 8 October 1969 in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester

Reviewed by: Colin Clarke

Reviewed: November 2007
BBCL 4222-2
Duration: 68 minutes



Sviatoslav Richter’s account of Schubert’s A minor Sonata is quite remarkable. The sheer scale he brings to a work other pianists tend to treat with a sort of inappropriate reverence is eye-popping. Fortes are elemental and contrasts maximised. The word harrowing sprang to mind as the first movement unfolded with an unstoppable momentum, its recapitulation seemingly underlining the force of Richter’s interpretation. The stillness of the Andante is, here, a clear foreshadowing of the profundities of the slow movements of Schubert’s final three sonatas. The short duration (five-and-a-half minutes) belies its depth. The chasing swirls that begin the finale emerge as more hallucinogenic than quirky

Much less well-known that the Sonata is the set of Variations on a theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner. Also in A minor, the theme seems remarkably close to the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. Schubert explores the theme with his customary imagination. It is not a work of the stature of the Sonata but Richter still elevates it to the status of miniature masterpiece.

Richter preferred to play a selection from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke. While Prague and Moscow performances have received many issues and reissues, this Manchester one has enjoyed far more select distribution. It remains a wonder of piano playing. ‘Des Abends’ has notes sounding like droplets of water in sound. If ‘Aufschwung’ is predictably explosive, ‘Warum?’ is as tender as one can imagine. The unrest of ‘In der Nacht’ finds Richter in his element, as does the prestidigitation of ‘Traumes Wirren’.

Finally, six minutes of Debussy. BBC Legends has already issued two other Richer accounts of this piece (on BBCL 4021-2 and BBCL 4103-2). Richter’s clarity and characteristic tone make the work entirely his own.

BBC Legends discs are never less than interesting and can be indispensable. This one falls into the latter category.

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