BEETHOVEN Works: Piano Con. 3, Choral Fantasy, Sonatas 8 & 23 – Sviatoslav Richter – Urania Widescreen

by | Oct 30, 2011 | Classical Reissue Reviews

BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37; Choral Fantasy in C Minor, Op. 80; Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 “Pathetique”; Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, Op. 57 “Appassionata”; 8 Bagatelles – Sviatoslav Richter, piano/ USSR State Symphony Orchestra/ Hermann Abendroth/ USSR RTV Large Symphony Orch./ State Academy Russian Chorus/ Kurt Sanderling – Urania Widescreen Collection WS 121.117 (2 CDs) 53:52; 60:53 [Distr. By Albany] ***:
The immediate misfortune on this fine set that celebrates the piano artistry of the monumental Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) in the music of Beethoven is the presence of two major dropouts in the live performance (October 1954) of the Third Concerto’s Largo movement at 7:57 and 8:57, respectively, each about five seconds’ length. The more’s the pity, since the collaboration with conductor Hermann Abendroth (1883-1956) marks one of the few extant excursions of this important colleague of Furtwaengler into Russian soil. Their eminently sober reading of the C Minor Concerto reveals Richter a potent interpreter of the piece, especially in the first movement cadenza. That Abendroth can sing comes to the fore in the fugato in the third movement Allegro. Whether the sonic defect lies in my copy or is a manufacturer’s error (or a direct product of the source) I cannot determine.
The 1808 Choral Fantasy, on the other hand, a collaboration with the estimable Kurt Sanderling from Moscow, 1952, offers a chorus singing the noble–even Masonic–words in Russian, without any alteration of the beat. Richter’s bravura contribution fully captures the improvisational element in Beethoven’s curious mixture of elements, so much a preparation for the colors, procedures, and sentiments in the Ninth Symphony. 
The Beethoven Pathetique Sonata (4 June 1959) proffers Richter’s special alchemy of velvet and granite, his taking the repeat in the first movement truly imparting a true sense of “grand sonata” in C Minor, whose painful chromaticism contrasts with its willful diatonism. The Appassionata Sonata (9 June 1960) live from Moscow proves nothing short of stupendous, as tumultuous as it is tender. Rarely have even the variations of the central movement communicated such urgency, and the last movement achieves a diabolical speed and ferocity to shake the walls of Jericho, the triple-fortes steaming from the force of the hammer blows. To say the audience erupts at the last chords posits a dire understatement. Richter, who protested against his being an “integralist,” resisted performing entire cycles of Beethoven, from sonatas to those incidental sets of bagatelles. Of the eight pieces herein recorded, the C Major from Op. 33 virtually explodes with fury, as does the demonic B Minor, Op. 126, No. 4. But Richter’s playing can purr with tender affection, his own polarities projected into a superb technique that could effect a glacial objectivity.
—Gary Lemco

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