In Memoriam: Legendary recordings, 1959-65 Sviatoslav Richter (Deutsche Grammophon 457 667-2)
In Memoriam: Legendary recordings, 1959-65

Sviatoslav Richter

(Deutsche Grammophon 457 667-2)

Sviatoslav Richter was a curious amalgam of the demonic, the profound and the indifferent. Put on his recording of Chopin's "Revolutionary" Etude and you might wonder what all the fuss was about - until the last minute or so (from, say, 1' 52"), when the tone softens, and your heart softens with it.

Likewise in the last two Ballades and the epic Polonaise Fantasia, three masterpieces that in Richter's hands are utterly bereft of thundering hysterics or morbid indulgence. What you do hear is Chopin as Classicist and contrapuntist, a strong but introvert representative of an ascetic brand of Romanticism.

Five Bach Preludes and Fugues come decked with exquisite nuances, though the parts are always subservient to the whole. Indeed, therein lies the crux of Richter's art: wealth without ostentation, spirituality without recourse to dogma, save for what is written - or, rather, what is implied - in the score.

DG's re-mastered, two-disc collection also offers a minutely observed account of Haydn's G minor Sonata (Hob XVI: 44), Schubert Landler laden with subtle melancholy, Schumann's versicoloured Op 1 and a translucent sequence of Debussy Estampes and Preludes.

Seven Rachmaninov Preludes facilitate superior virtuosity, and three Visions fugitives remind us that, when Prokofiev heard Richter play, he felt as though he was hearing his music for the first time.

That privilege is now ours to share, and the recordings - some of which are live - sound better than ever.

Rob Cowan

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