Sviatoslav Richter = SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in C Minor, D. 958; BARTOK: 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs; SZYMANOWSKI: Two Pieces from Masques, Op. 34; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 – Sviatoslav Richter, piano – BBC Legends

by | Jan 3, 2010 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

Sviatoslav Richter = SCHUBERT: Piano Sonata in C Minor, D. 958; BARTOK: 15 Hungarian Peasant Songs; SZYMANOWSKI: Two Pieces from Masques, Op. 34; PROKOFIEV: Piano Sonata No. 7 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 – Sviatoslav Richter, piano

BBC Legends BBCL 4265-2, 80:00 [Distr. by E1] ****:

The piano recital at London’s Royal Festival Hall 7 December 1970 features the monumental art of Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997), perhaps the most adamantine of the Russian school of Heinrich Neuhaus. The C Minor Sonata comes from Schubert’s final months in 1828, when a contemplation of Fate seems to have marked the trilogy of sonatas the composer bequeathed us. The obsessive, hammering motives in C Minor do yield to E-flat Major and its tonic minor, which in Richter’s granite realization hardly suggest consolation. By the end of the repeated exposition, the intricacies of a pummeling emotional condition have established an unbreakable grip, and we may laugh, but we smile no more. The dark chromatics rarely permit any light into these caverns measureless to man, although the skittish figures over deep rumblings may contain bittersweet moments of recollection.

The Adagio in A-flat Major stands as one of Richter’s great renderings of Schubert, the inward D-flat of the first movement now colored with uneasy shifts of dynamics and meter. To call Richter’s shattering sforzandos “hammer blows” in the midst of the G-flat Minor episode hardly does their violence poetic justice. A terrible enervation of spirit has beset Schubert, who clearly wanders in contrapuntally chromatic labyrinths a motherless child. The storms refuse to abate, despite the melancholy lyricism ( into C Major) of the opening theme, later played marcato, almost in response to the same technique in Beethoven’s Andante from the Pastoral Sonata, Op. 28. The Menuetto appears to grope to its dance character, finding in its A-flat trio ghostly memories whose rhythmic accents keep shifting. Even the da capo suffers strange interrupted interludes that lead to the agitated Allegro finale, an obsessive tarantella in 6/8. The key changes in this movement testify to a mercurial, even turbulent sense of identity, C Major, C Minor, E-flat Major and D-flat. Richter plays the lighter passagework as a variant of the Erl-Koenig’s alluring song to the destruction of innocence. Whether we witnessed great music or powerful exorcism, the audience claps unanimously its gratitude.

Bartok collected his Old Hungarian Melodies during WW I, six old dance tunes that evolve into nine Old Dance Tunes, the whole forming a four-movement pattern with a scherzo and slow section. The cool Richter approach voices the chords like a woodwind choir, especially in the Rubato section. A passing phrase seems to hint at Tchaikovsky’s The Months. The brief Scherzo moves to a Ballade on step removed from Mussorgsky. Either childlike or stentorian, the Old Dance Tunes gain a terrific momentum, close to the Allegro barbaro and individual stamping dances from Mikrokosmos. The primal power of the rendition places Bartok among those “primitives” like Stravinsky and Prokofiev who sought a renewed energy in folk idioms.

The two “quasi parodistic” Masques of Szymanowski (the unplayed third is called Don Juan’s Serenade) were composed around 1915 and reveal the heavy influence of Ravel. Sheherazade casts a powerfully hard patina while exploiting bitonalities and metric instability. Szymanowski insinuates a Moorish or pentatonic scale into the fabrication of the Arabian Nights, the middle section almost a combination of Chopin and Debussy’s Granada poems. The sound of bells or timbrels is heard, as well as the gauzy veils cast over the narrator’s face and stories. Tantris le bouffon translates the Tristan myth into risqué portrait, not far from Debussy’s treatment of the Wagner motif in Golliwog’s Cakewalk. Jerky rhythms and tremolos alternate with stealthy parlandi motifs, all spliced into a three-handed polyphonic mix that Richter negotiates with brazen security.

The last of the evening’s demons is the great star in this musical Orion’s belt, the Prokofiev Seventh Sonata. The second of the “Wartime Sonatas,” the B-flat exerts the kind of spiritual anxiety that “Allegro inquieto” can only approximate but whose manic force Richter applies with gusto. Bleak haunted vistas yawn before us, the “deserts of the mind” of which Varese likewise imagined. The intensity of the first movement quite blisters the ear, the mind, the sensibilities. Fire and ice converge, just as Dante proclaimed his vision of Hell. The Andante caloroso provides no warmth in these illuminations, which each a savage reeling epiphany in the concluding Preipitato. The audience accepts the maelstrom with glee, refusing to hear or see the Apocalypse whose horsemen Richter has unleashed pitilessly.

–Gary Lemco

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