DVOŘÁK: Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16; SCHUMANN: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 – Sviatoslav Richter, p./ Bavarian State Orch. Munich/ Carlos Kleiber (Dvořák)/ Monte Carlo National Opera Orch./ Lovro von Matačić – EMI Signature Series stereo-only SACD 55999 (two discs), 38:30, 58:59 [7/10/12] ****:
EMI’s new Signature Collection has great promise for those collectors searching for improved sound on older stereo and mono recordings from their vast catalog. Featuring pianist Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), this set has many positive points, but also some drawbacks.
In the set’s notes, EMI does not hesitate to point out the famous pianist’s gifts and foibles. Some critics did not warm to Richter’s interpretations of the Grieg and Schumann concertos on their original release and this may explain why this recording dropped from the EMI catalog for many years. Matačić was an excellent conductor and his accompaniment with the Monte Carlo orchestra (a very good band) provided the needed stirring musical thrills. Richter’s approach to both the Grieg and Schumann was to treat these concertos as monumental works. Most pianists do not. However, Richter’s musical expression is surely grand and it works.
The album’s notes by Bryce Morrison point out that Richter’s performances could become “nebulous and withdrawn” and “lost and confused.” These negative remarks certainly do not refer to these recordings. However, Morrison also writes that Richter often “radically altered all possible preconceptions” and “went totally against the grain of received wisdom.” That is certainly what Richter did by performing the original version of the Dvořák concerto. Others play one of several revised piano parts to make the music more playable or flashier. Richter, again, convinces in his reading. His support comes from the legendary conductor Carlos Kleiber in a matchless understanding of the score with the Bavarian State Orchestra. [Here is our recent review of another earlier Richter performance of two of these concertos, transferred to a Praga SACD…Ed.]
So what’s to gripe about? I could not detect a significant difference between the SACD two-channel stereo sound layer and the CD layer, despite being called an “audiophile edition… in high definition sound.” In fact, comparing the Dvořák with a previous EMI CD issue (which also has Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy, but not included here), I find little difference between the sound on any of the options. Since EMI is releasing these Signature Collection multi-disc sets at mid-price, there is little to complain about price wise, despite a short first disc. [I heard an enhancement in all the other EMI Signatures I auditioned, but didn’t do this one…Ed.]
The other perplexing point is that EMI, which has a quadraphonic master of all of these recordings, chose only to prepare a two-channel stereo version, instead of giving us the original quad four-channel version which could easily have been put on the 5.1 capable SACD. I could not detect whether the “ambient” rear channels were mixed into the front channels or not, because I do not have the SQ Quadraphonic LP for comparison. Overall, the EMI sound from 1976 and 1974 in this compilation is first class. [Good point!…Ed.]
The hard-bound booklet (holding the discs) is in English, French and German with a fascinating collection of photographs in color. Recommended to those who want this combination of compositions in their collections or those who are Richter fans.
Speakers Corner Records releases an upgraded vinyl of Lou Reed’s breakout 1972 album.