FRANZ SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas 21 in B flat major and 13 in A; Impromptu – Sviatoslav Richter, p. – Praga Digitals

by | Feb 18, 2013 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

FRANZ SCHUBERT: Piano Sonatas 21 in B flat major, D. 960 and 13 in A, D. 664; Impromptu, Op. 90, No. 4 – Sviatoslav Richter, p. – Praga Digitals Reminiscences stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 360 063, 79:19 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Russian Sviatoslav Richter (1915 – 1997) was one of the 20th century’s towering giants of the concert grand. His repertory was vast and comprehensive, from the Baroque through modern music. As Richter was a poet of the piano, he had considerable insight into Franz Schubert’s ethos, producing hypnotic readings of great beauty and profundity.

On this stereo SACD Richter plays Schubert live in Prague on three dates: September 24, 1972 (Sonata No. 21), June 10-11, 1962 (Sonata No. 13) and June 10, 1956 (Impromptu No. 4). The source are analog broadcast master tapes from the Czech Radio.

Checking the Richter discography by Paul Geffen on the Internet, this recording appears to be the first release of these performances. This Praga Digitals release is excellent for radio tapes. For Richter fans it is fortunate that most of his concerts were taped, as well as the ‘studio’ recordings which allowed for corrections of the odd and infrequent finger slip.

Available on compact disc is another Richter performance of the Sonata No. 21 recorded at the Salzburg Festival August 6 and November 9, 1972. It has extremely realistic sound in the ambient sound of the Schloss Anif where Richter performed. Originally released on a Melodiya/ Eurodisc LP, the recording is worth hearing, since it wears its 40 years well. It may still be available on CD as Melodiya/ JVC VDC-1021 or JVC VICC-22002 and Eurodisc 69078. There have been a flood of Richter recordings on various labels. Trying to track down this 1972 Salzburg performance might be difficult.

Schubert’s last sonata (No. 21) is a challenge for the pianist and audience members. In the performances with the first movement repeat, the sonata tends to be excessively stretched out. Richter’s performance of the first movement clocks in at 25 minutes. To compare it with Clifford Curzon’s recording (on Decca), Curzon dispatches the first movement in 13 minutes.

Richter’s forceful performances of the ‘spring’ Sonata No. 13 and the hymn-like Impromptu No. 4 are on the same Olympian plane as the Sonata No. 21.

This release is labeled as being part of a Richter Edition and as a Limited Edition. The two Richter performances I have mentioned above of Sonata No. 21 are similar interpretively.

—Zan Furtwangler

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