LISZT: Piano Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; Piano Sonata in B Minor – Sviatoslav Richter, piano/ Moscow Philharmonic/ Kirill Kondrashin – Doron DRC 4025, 66:53 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Performances of the Liszt staples, the concertos and the mighty B Minor Sonata from Moscow, 1959 feature that most fearless of keyboard titans, Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997). Like Liszt, a whirlwind of temperamental paradoxes, Richter possessed a staggering technique, one that embraces Liszt’s big octaves in the 1853 E-flat Concerto with massive ease, and he brings poetry and diaphanous weightlessness to the recitatives, runs, declamations, and abbreviated cadenzas. The lyric element extends to the orchestra, which rarely thunders in tutti but rather exploits any number of color solos from the flute, clarinet, violins, and of course, the triangle. Liszt had boasted that the opening Allegro maestoso motif stood for a motto: “Das versteht ihr alle nicht, ha, ha!” (“This none of you understands, ha, ha!”) Richter and Kondrashin understand the motto and its variants perfectly. The Quasi Adagio displays Richter’s capacity for enshrining a poetic nocturne in silver filaments. A transparent trill from Richter and Kondrashin’s flute lead to the clarinet and viola that yield to the triangle and plucked strings that accompany Richter in the Scherzo movement. The unresolved movement proceeds directly to the Allegro marziale animato finale, itself a recycling of former motifs. Economy and diversity merge ingeniously, and Richter pummels his way into the trills and octaves wearing his velvet glove. The transitions to the various sections, marked by tympani, trombones, cymbals, and shimmering basses all derive from the opening motto and the Adagio, but the musical seams and the new tempo make it all shine and blaze like new.
The 1863 Concerto in A Major develops even further the notion of thematic metamorphosis. Liszt’s models lie in Henry Litolff and Carl Maria von Weber, especially the latter’s F Minor Konzertstuck. This meandering but unified work calls upon Richter’s poetic sensibility more than does the E-flat Concerto. The cadenzas, however, call upon large spans and octaves, even as they serve as transitions to often martial episodes. The Moscow brass tear open some spaces while the piano exults and then, suddenly, breaks off into nocturnal meditation. The string bass progressions come right out of Gretchen in the Faust-Symphonie. The erotic impulse expands through cello and piano, and Richter carries us back into A Major. The oboe’s appearance with Richter’s arpeggios announce another transition, a preparation for the Allegro deciso and fateful march in the Hungarian mode. Once more, Kondrashin’s cymbals make striking punctuation marks. Richter suddenly addresses the poem in this work, appassionato, and the effect – with the solo flute and muted strings – proves magical amidst all the bombast. The coda alone warrants the price of admission, quicksilver and titanically explosive at once.
Liszt based his 1853 Sonata in B Minor on his appreciation of Schubert, particularly that composer’s Wanderer Fantasy. The one-movement structure naturally and organically divides itself into three and perhaps four movements. The Herculean leaps – of mood as well as of intervals – Richter immerses himself into with unbridled passion, at fearless tempos. The designation Grandioso from Liszt has rarely had so literal a realization. The uncanny application of staccato simultaneously with the most sensual legato playing inscribes this (live) performance into legend. Collectors will claim their Horowitz, Wild, Arrau, or Cziffra performance as “definitive,” but Richter needs not kowtow to anyone. Though Richter never made a commercial record of the Sonata, several live inscriptions exist. Every attack or rhetorical gesture, however demonic or ecstatic, receives the most decisive application, luxuriating in its extremes. The fugal evolution of the theme, almost a solo exhibition from the Totentanz, will raise the hairs on the back of ears and necks. Then the orgiastic throes of the stretti to the blazing octaves in counterpoint – it all simply overwhelms us, as Richter did his Moscow audience.