Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3, Vol.4, Vol.5, Vol.6, Vol.7, Vol.8, Vol.9, Vol.10
A straight reissue of a volume from Philips' Richter Edition, this two-disc set will instantly appeal to any Richter fan who missed it the first time around. With two magnificent Haydn sonatas and a fiery Weber sonata on the first disc coupled with four lesser known but no less wonderful Beethoven sonatas on the second disc, the selection is a typical Richter mixture of the popular and the recherche. With the pianist's unique combination of nuanced touch, check out his shading in the central Adagio con molto espressione of Beethoven's B flat Sonata; for ingenious balances, check out his phrasing in the central Adagio of Haydn's E flat major Sonata; for supple tempos, check out his rubato in the opening "Mit Lebhaftigkeit" of Beethoven's E minor Sonata; for propulsive rhythms, check out his power in the closing Presto of Weber's D minor Sonata; for profound depths of emotion, check out either his pain in the "Marcia funebre" from Beethoven's A flat major Sonata or his joy in the closing "Nicht zu geschwind" from Beethoven's E minor Sonata, these performances are an ideal blend of everything that's great about the Russian pianist. Two of the performances come from relatively early in the pianist's career, Beethoven's E major Sonata and B flat major Sonata date from 1963, while the remainder come from fairly late in his life, the Haydn, Weber, and the rest of the Beethoven sonatas date from 1993, but every performance here is as good as it gets in the repertoire and deserves to be heard not just by Richter's fans but by anyone who loves great piano playing.
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DEDICATION TO PIANISTIC TRUTH
Sviatoslav Richter - a servant of music
Without ever going out of his way to do so, Sviatoslav Richter was always able to surprise his audience, purely and simply because he was always willing to surprise himself. He would happily abandon what he had tried out and practised, what had long seemed to him, after much careful thought, to be the ultimate solution, for the sake of a new idea that came to him quite suddenly and seemed to illuminate a new truth.
The ancient Greeks saw this "moment of opportunity" which Richter so repeatedly exploited as-being embodied in the god Kairos, the shaven-headed youth with the long forelock by which he allowed himself to be seized as he sped by. Of all pianists it was Sviatoslav Richter who always trusted most deeply in Kairos.
Although he did make occasional slips - infallibility is dull - Richter was never discouraged, but sought in his playing the moment of spiritual awakening and worked it into his interpretation. This gave his interpretations life, fire, vigour, adventure and greatness.
Richter never played with absolute confidence, even though his tremendous capability and splendid technique seldom allowed anything of this to become evident. Not outwardly, at any rate. Inwardly, however, almost every concert brought some new misgiving. Artistic self-satisfaction was a concept unknown to Richter. He battled his way through the works at the piano as though it were a matter of life and death, as though he were a second Jacob: "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me".
Richter was indeed blessed, and at the same time stricken. He had an absolutely unlimited talent to build on, a talent which quickly won recognition but whose development was very slow and rather erratic. At a time when numerous pianists were beginning to conduct, Richter was, on the contrary, probably the only conductor who laid down the baton to become a pianist, and never turned back. For that is exactly what happened. In 1952 Richter, then thirty-seven years old, stood on the conductor's podium when his friend Mstislav Rostropovich premiered Prokofiev's Symphonie concertante for cello and orchestra. Thereafter Richter was heard solely as a pianist.
At an age when others have long since made their debut in all the international capitals of the world, Richter had just completed his studies in Moscow with the great Heinrich Neuhaus, with whom Emil Gilels also studied. But unlike Gilels, whom the Soviet Union sent out into the world, Richter, who was of German extraction, was not allowed to leave the Eastern bloc.
His fame spread literally by word of mouth. When, in 1958, he played Prokofiev during the Warsaw Autumn Festival, people singled him out as the rising star among the greatest pianists. But two more years were to pass before Richter was allowed to make his debut in New York's Carnegie Hall. He was welcomed like a pianist from another planet, which did not at all suit this rather shy, contemplative and irascible man. The pressure of the expectations that greeted him on every side might easily have brought down even a far less sensitive spirit than Richter.
It was Richter's good fortune that he could sidestep all expectations. He was neither a Chopin player nor a Beethoven player, neither a Liszt player nor a Mozart player, neither a Rachmaninov player nor a Schubert player, neither a Bach player nor a Schumann player. He was Sviatoslav Richter, full stop. That was it - and it was enough to captivate his audience anew every time.
Audiences quickly learnt simply to place themselves in Richter's hands and let themselves be surprised. In his later years Richter seldom fixed his programme at all in advance. He played whatever he was most taken up with at the time of the concert, whatever suddenly passed through his mind, whatever animated him, in the truest sense of the word. Of all pianists Richter was perhaps the one with not only the richest, most conflicting repertoire, but also the most fully developed anima. That was what distinguished his playing: the spiritual state in which he found himself at the moment of performing any particular piece. This was not a form of improvisation, but rather a fresh grasp of a spiritual asset, of something that had long ago been studied and understood but that now suddenly forced its way into the mind and hands once more to be tested afresh, enriched with new ideas and insights and a more mature understanding.
Richter was not a pianist who repeated himself. He preferred rather to rediscover himself: in reality that meant to uncover himself, to present the truth of the pieces in a new light and their composers as transformed beings. For Richter, music was not a collection of museum pieces. In his playing he resolutely avoided dead classicism. He took to himself only what moved him inwardly. The radius this covered was enormous, stretching in an unbroken chain from Bach to the modern period, to Stravinsky, Webern and Schoenberg. Richter was without doubt a musical thinker, a thinker who understood not the sources but the passage of ideas. These broadened the view of the musical panorama with which Richter continually struggled anew. His concerts were literally a chain of unforgettable events.
Whether playing one Haydn sonata after another (from the music, not from memory) in Spoleto, or Beethoven's Diabelli Variations in a dance hall in Heide, Schleswig-Holstein; whether playing Bach or Brahms in the barn at Meslay, that Romanesque harvest-time cathedral near Tours; whether accompanying Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on the open-air stage in front of the cathedral in Menton or Peter Schreier in a performance of Schubert's Winterreise at the Semperoper in Dresden, Richter was always able, through his unbending, unerring dedication to the great moment of pianistic truth, to captivate and move his listeners. His playing had the characteristics of a musical revelation that is shared with the entire world.
Richter was long surrounded by the aura of the extraordinary. People regarded him as a prophet with hands that were blessed for making music, however irksome this excessive veneration may have been to him. He saw himself simply as a musician who studied untiringly; as the servant of music, not its master. In his view, admiration was due solely to those who wrote the music, not to those who play it.
Richter never extolled himself. He directed the spotlight entirely on the work, like the small portable spotlight that illuminated the pages from which he played. Richter himself preferred to sit in the dark, almost invisible.
- Klaus Geitel (translation Mary Adams)