ICA Classics – Sviatoslav Richter plays the Hammerklavier Sonata

0 of 5 stars

Piano Sonata No.3 in C, Op.2/3
Bagatelles, Op.126 – No.1 in G; No.4 in B minor; No.6 in E flat
Piano Sonata No.29 in B flat, Op.106 (Hammerklavier)

Sviatoslav Richter (piano)

Recorded 18 June 1975 in Royal Festival Hall, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2012
Duration: 81 minutes



This magical and magnificent recital finds Sviatoslav Richter (1915-97) at his very greatest, as honest and as unflinching as Beethoven’s music itself. He opens with a spacious account of the early C major Sonata, relating as a whole its Haydnesque capriciousness, gentle tunefulness and strength of purpose. Richter digs deep into the slow movement, solemn and comforting, and relishes the skittishness of the following scherzo. The finale is vibrantly purposeful, Richter valuing Beethoven’s tongue-in cheek progressions. After which three of the Opus 126 Bagatelles remind of the many riches that lay behind the use of such an innocent title. Richter teases with the G major example, loving its tunes and decorations; he then storms through the demonic B minor (his fingers must have been a blur at the recital), but this is not showmanship, he’s just being dead honest, and he has time for the drone passages; and the closing number mixes touching lyricism and the spirit of the dance, Richter alive to both.

As for the ‘Hammerklavier’, Richter delivers a magisterial and remarkable account, weighty, rough-hewn and unrushed in the opening movement, and therefore below Beethoven’s ‘impossible’ metronome marking, but the pianist serves well the music’s articulacy and entity, and he observes the exposition repeat to inexorable effect. This is a striving and noble reading, the following scherzo more ‘sane’ than it can be, if bluff, making later contrasts all that more volatile. The heart of this work is the lengthy Adagio sostenuto. At close on 18 minutes, Richter comes nicely between others’ extremes of tempo and timings. On this occasion, Richter judges things to a nicety – lofty and searching, serenely singing a message that can be difficult to decipher; here the music unfolds in hypnotic fashion as Richter conjures something utterly sublime. The finale, almost extemporised in its beginning, is stunning in both its formality and craziness, Richter attuned to the Bachian undertow as he progresses through this trill-encrusted fugal frenzy like a man possessed, which maybe Beethoven was when he composed it. Therefore, it is a meeting of minds.

The stereo sound, although a little fierce, is thoughtfully re-mastered to retain brightness and presence (the hiss is easily ignored), and allows Richter’s opening-out of the music to be blessedly truthful and dynamic as well as very much with us in the listening room.

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