These live performances, particularly the first two (the Bach and Beethoven), date from the time when Sviatoslav Richter was transforming from a mysterious Soviet legend into a much more tangible (if not less mysterious) presence on the North American musical scene. His recordings of Mozart (K. 466) for Deutsche Grammophon and Brahms (Op. 83) and Beethoven (Op. 15) for RCA were making a brilliant impression upon the public and the press, and his reputation was fast becoming assured.
Over time, Richter’s playing in the Mozart recording has proved to be less gripping than it seemed at first, and his lack of size in the Brahms has proved to be more of a problem than anticipated. But his Beethoven, perhaps because it runs so idiosyncratically against the grain, remains an unquestionably great Richter interpretation: focused so intensely that everything else, including the anemic orchestral accompaniments, the clueless conducting and even the composer’s probable intentions, seem pretty much beside the point. It is surprisingly like Glenn Gould in its lapidary obsession, but far more elegant, physically beautiful and intellectually seductive. The first movement, and the first movement cadenza, in particular, seem to stretch out forever in a perfect twilight zone of reflection—not because of slow speeds (indeed, the speeds are on the quick side) but because the pianist’s hypnotic sense of poetry and motion open up into a unique world of sound and imagination that lies beyond Beethovenian convention and interpretive logic. And, as good as the RCA recording was – with Charles Munch conducting the Boston Symphony – this performance of the Beethoven is in a class by itself.
The Bach and Prokofiev performances which round out this release are also magical in the Richter way, but can be had with better accompaniment elsewhere.
The sound has been cleaned up using DLC 24-bit restoration, and while the exceptionally clean results may lack a little in sheer muscle, it is of little importance because muscle is not what Sviatoslav Richter was about. Series director Ates Tanin’s brief notes are welcome. Highly recommended.
– Laurence Vittes