Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4, Vol.5, Vol.6, Vol.7, Vol.8, Vol.9, Vol.10
Klaviersonaten Nrr. 19, 20, 22, 23, 30, 31, 32
For those who missed them the first time around, here are Sviatoslav Richter's 1991 and 1992 recordings of seven piano sonatas by Beethoven again. First released by Philips in a 20-disc Richter Edition from 1994, the same performances are re-released here on Decca in transfers that are essentially identical to the originals. Unfortunately, it has to be acknowledged that for the most part these are not Richter's finest recordings of the works. The three two-movement sonatas that open the first disc, Opus 49 Nos. 1 and 2 and Opus 54, are examples of the Soviet giant at his best - that is, technically flawless, brilliantly incisive, and interpretively sublime - but it's quickly downhill from there. Compared with any of his three electrifying 1960 recordings, this 1991 Appassionato, Op. 57, is dull, sloppy, and clangorous. And compared with his exhilarating 1963 Leipzig recordings, these 1992 recordings of Opus 109, 110, and 111 are stolid, scrappy, and affected. Fortunately, even at less than his best, Richter is still amazing. Although not up to the reckless tempos of the Appassionato's finale nor the angular counterpoint of the last three sonatas, his ideal balances, soulful phrasing, and radiant lyricism in the slow movements still make these performances well worth hearing by fans of the pianist. Recorded live in Amsterdam and Stuttgart, the digital sound is slightly hazy, but very evocative.
========= from the cover ==========
A LEGEND IN MATURITY
Sviatoslav Richter - the interpreter as servant
How astonishing it is to discover that one of the greatest musicians of the past century never actually had a normal career in terms of any determined attempt to win over the public. Even when Sviatoslav Richter was young, he did not go through the usual stages of early acclaim as an infant prodigy, followed by prestigious competition successes; at an age when other pianists had long since won their first laurels on international concert platforms, Richter was working as a repetiteur at the Odessa Opera, and he was nearly thirty by the time he finished his studies with the celebrated Moscow teacher Heinrich Neuhaus.
The bravura quality of Richter's piano playing carried all before it in those years, but it was never geared for effect or in any way superficial. Even in those days his artistry was characterised by supreme intellectual control, drawing his interpretation from an awareness of the music's extreme complexity and organic unity. Heinrich Neuhaus expressed his feelings about Richter's interpretative style at that time in an image that can be applied without modification to Richter's later years as well: when this pianist is playing, he said, the whole work is presented "like a vast landscape, which he surveys from a great height with incredibly keen vision, taking in the whole and all the details at the same time".
One deplorable effect of the political barriers that once stood between East and West was that for a long time people in Europe and America could hear enthusiastic reports about Sviatoslav Richter - but unfortunately not the man himself. Richter became a mythical beast of the piano, the enigmatic ultimate performer from the realms of legend. And when he was finally allowed out of the former Soviet Union, travelling first to Finland and then to the United States, he found himself contending with a quite enormous weight of expectation. This sensitive, introverted artist, who sometimes tortured himself with doubts, felt he was being forced into the very role for which he was least suited, that of the all-time great superstar.
It is necessary to keep this biographical background in view in order to understand what was perhaps his most radical departure from any orthodox career - his increasing rejection of the world of commercial music, with its operations planned out to the last detail. For the second time in his life Richter ceased to have any predictable availability for his circle of admirers, which by that time stretched around the world - and once again he became a living legend. Incidentally, this turn of events certainly had nothing to do with taking it easy in old age; in 1986 Richter, who was after all seventy-one, took on no less than 150 concerts, though in fact they were no longer fixed in schedules calculated over long periods, but often came from a spontaneous wish to play in places that were sometimes very much off the beaten track. In his later years Richter apparently preferred the ambience of barns in France, monastery libraries in Bavaria or Baroque theatres in Italy, and it came to be regarded as a special event if ever he did make an appearance before a large audience in a famous concert hall.
A performer like this does not exactly make things easy for his devotees. Richter sometimes decided only a few days in advance when and where he would appear, and quite rightly relied on his public to find out about it somehow. In practice that meant, of course, that Richter's appearances became more and more a matter of inside knowledge for those able to follow the master's idiosyncratic ways. It is fortunate for the wider musical public, however, that Richter permitted live recording of his concerts, so that the thrill of his playing can still be experienced by those who never had the chance of attending a piano recital of his.
Admittedly, even the best live recording cannot quite convey the almost religious aura that emanated from Richter in his last years. There is none of that visible rejection of all the conventional virtuoso trappings, as Richter opened the music by the piano, dimly lit by a reading lamp in the darkened hall, thereby drawing attention solely to the music being performed, rather than to his own person. Nevertheless, this does mean that recordings, relying purely on hearing, once again ultimately achieve Richter's object of absolute concentration on the music.
The works in the Amsterdam and Ludwigsburg concerts preserved here seem indeed to have been chosen as if to illustrate the way virtuosity can thus be made subservient to the music. True, these Beethoven programmes also include the "Appassionata", with its infernal frenzy in F minor, which reached positively rapturous heights in Richter's earlier readings. Though Richter in old age is less ecstatic and uninhibited in this piece, he plays with a stronger sense of structure, greater composure and somewhat more objectivity. Absolute values had become more important than virtuosity, and miniatures were as highly regarded as works on a grand scale. For it was quite typical of Richter's musical predilections that in Amsterdam he combined the "Appassionata" with the two "easy" Op.49 sonatas and the F major Sonata, op. 54, which is often underrated. The idea that music may be lightweight seems to have had no place in his thinking, and miniatures were scrutinised for their unrecognised greatness. Then the Ludwigsburg programme, with its trilogy of late sonatas (opp.109-111), enters wholly into a realm where virtuosity becomes abstract, promoting a cogent exposition of the inner workings of the music. Sviatoslav Richter's approach to this Beethoven programme demonstrates the way he had changed inwardly in his old age: from the supreme virtuoso of former years he had turned into the interpreter as servant, in the deepest meaning of the word.
- Klaus Bennert (translation Robert Jordan)