Richter the Master, Vol. 7 = Works of BRAHMS & SCHUMANN – DGG (2 discs)

by | Jan 9, 2008 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Richter the Master, Vol. 7 = BRAHMS: Piano Sonata No. 1 in C Major, Op. 1; Piano Sonata No. 2 in F-sharp Minor, Op. 2; Paganini Variations, Op. 35; Ballade in G Minor, Op. 118, No. 3; Rhapsody in E-flat, Op. 119, No. 4; Intermezzo in E Minor, Op. 116, No. 5; Capriccio in C Major, Op. 76, No. 8; SCHUMANN: Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17 – Sviatoslav Richter, piano

DGG 475 8628, (2 CDs)  60:56; 70:44  (Distrib. Universal) ****:

The music of Brahms always held a fascination and power for Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), who recorded a considerable body of that master’s music, despite Richter’s claim to be “a non-integralist.” Richter’s icy objectivity could re-romanticize pieces too often rendered sentimentally. The early Brahms of the C Major Sonata, heavily indebted to Beethoven–both of the piano sonatas and the Fifth Symphony–achieves both girth and intimacy in Richter’s reading before a live, silent audience. The hard patina he applies to the Scherzo aligns Brahms with the detached classicism of the formalists of the eras that followed him, like Hindemith and Krenek. The hectic last movement makes allusions to the hunt by way of Schumann, with gritty syncopes and three-hand effects.

The F-sharp Minor Sonata, Op. 2, has found adherents in Bashkirov, Katchen, and Richter. Beethoven would be the obvious model for the opening movement, at least the bold percussion of the Hammerklavier Sonata. The galloping figures, the leaps, borrow from Schumann and Liszt, especially the latter’s Dante Sonata. Richter delivers a stunning, unrelenting energy to the sweeping gestures. The Andante con espessione breaks up its motifs into tiny fragments, looking ahead to the Second Viennese School. For those who appreciate Richter in the music of Schubert, the Scherzo should satisfy, given its overt borrowings of the Viennese master’s harmonic, even enharmonic, palette. A kind of improvisation begins the last movement–sostenuto–then the tremulous excursion a la Schumann opens out, fugato maerchen and cantilenas all. The previously silent audience makes its grateful presence known.

Disc 2 divides itself between the virtuoso Brahms and the “old bachelor music” of the intermezzi and late-style Chopinesque pieces.  Richter’s Paganini Variations–before a live audience–waste no time asserting his fluid, riveting, technical means which gobble up the composer’s demand for diverse applications of touch, spans, double notes, alla musette, agogics, and the violin’s bariolage effects.  Hardly have we paused for breath when another surge of double octaves knocks us over, several of the figures at the end of Book I straight out of Schumann’s Carnaval. Book II allows to witness the demonic and the angelic in Richter’s technique, especially in the legato, leggierissimo, and drooping-figure variations, which exude as much tenderness as they do pearly play. The transition to the final, declamatory octaves is as ineluctable as it is powerful.

The G Minor Ballade, of which there exists a video account with Richter, opens with a tiger’s fury, leaping out and then pacing back and forth within the cage of modified sonata-form. Richter fashions an epic E-flat Rhapsody, only too fast. The E Minor Intermezzo, rife with sequences, proves mysteriously haunted. The C Major Capriccio tumbles with resignation, autumn winds whirling with discontent and pre-Debussy harmonic undercurrents.  Schumann’s monumental Fantasie in C Major, Op. 17--in live performance–meant as a tribute to Beethoven, brings forth both resolute Florestan and amorous Eusebius from Richter, who conjures rills and eddies along a seamless, measured stream. The music “in the style of a legend” rings out an improvised drama of note, rife with demonized block chords and manic syncopations. The second movement march Richter takes pesant, with a bit of ritard, although the facile trills seem to accelerate the tempo. The first period ends, and a scherzetto appears, synchronized dalliance urged by passionate tremors. The explosive da capo and near-hysterical coda proceed like fate, inevitable. Richter takes the last movement, the “crown of stars” by way of the poet Schlegel as a mirror-image of the first movement, an sostenuto introduction followed by a kind of ballade. Deliberate, shaded, and evocatively muscular, the music proceeds with a taut dreaminess, as lucid as it is resolute.  Masterful.

— Gary Lemco

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