Piano Sonata in C minor, D958
Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs
Masques – Shéhérazade; Tantris le bouffon
Piano Sonata No.7 in B flat, Op.83
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Recorded 7 December 1970 in Royal Festival Hall, London
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: November 2009
CD No: BBC LEGENDS
Duration: 80 minutes
This is Sviatoslav Richter at his very greatest – uncompromising and with no concern for anything except presenting his chosen pieces with unvarnished truth and maximum involvement. It’s a heady recital, too, in terms of the repertoire and its juxtaposition.
The Schubert is given a forceful and demarcated account, Schubert’s debt to Beethoven left in no doubt, Richter exploring tempo, emotional and dynamic possibilities without losing sight of the work’s overall shape and trajectory; a remarkably profound experience.
Bartók’s Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs are no less absorbing, Richter not prepared to skim the surface but to dig deep into the soul of music that would have been so close to the composer’s being. Such intense identification also informs the two movements from Szymanowski’s Masques, here given with an explicitness that silences criticism, every note and inflection given meaning, any complexity made lucid while retaining fantasy, enigma, and something utterly new and hypnotic.
Finally Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata (the middle panel of the triptych of so-called ‘War Sonatas’, here presented with the nickname of ‘Stalingrad’, something not normally ascribed to it), which however brusque and powerhouse this particular performance is, or however private and emotionally knotted it is made, Richter plays with such sympathy and understanding that it’s almost as if he is inside the piano pushing outwards rather than pummelling the instrument in contrivance for an ovation. He plays like a man obsessed; nothing else mattered at the time. It is reported that Stravinsky greeted a New York concert performance of The Rite of Spring conducted by Leonard Bernstein with a simple “Wow!”. That’s exactly what I said, out loud, after this utterly astonishing performance of Richter working miracles.
Tony Faulkner’s re-mastering of the source material is to be congratulated, a comfortable level of hiss left as proof that no hijacking of the piano’s true tones has been made; the result is a realistic presentation of Richter’s growling bass and glowering treble (with plenty in between). This is simply a must-have release of a breathtakingly outstanding recital.