Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Liebesträume No.2, S541/2 (c.1850) [4:25]
Liebesträume No.3, S541/3 (c.1850) [4:21]
Valse Oubliée No.1 in F sharp, S215/1 (c.1881-85) [2:37]
Valse Oubliée No.2 in A sharp, S215/2 (c.1881-85) [5:39]
Valse Oubliée No.3, S215/3 (c.1881-85) [4:39]
Mephisto Waltz No.1, S514 (transc. S110/2) (1860) [11:02]
Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Melodies, S123 (c.1852) [14:57]
Piano Concerto No.2 in A, S125 (1839, rev 1849-61) [20:52]
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, Funérailles, S173/7 (1845-52) [11:11]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Hungarian State Orchestra/János Ferencsik
rec. 5 February 1958, Moscow, and 11 February 1958, Budapest and 27 September 1961, Budapest (concerto)
The earliest recital in this programme was recorded in Moscow on 5 February 1958, and it captures Richter in half a dozen pieces by Liszt. He plays two of the Liebesträume, the second with quite a melancholy reserve, and third with poetic delicacy. Then he essays three of the four Valses Oubliées, dispensing with the last. The second, in particular, is played with dry wit and a fine sense of rhythm, reminiscent of his Chopin playing at its most persuasive. His trills and dynamics are equally convincing. In the Mephisto Waltz he is not out for velocity for its own sake; indeed he ensures that the mood broods elastically and with canny dynamics ensures that it generates its own turmoil and tension comparable to that of, say, Lazar Berman. This excellent mini-selection compares very well with other surviving Liszt performances from the 1950s. Richter’s 1954 Moscow performances, for example, have a comparable artistic stature, but they’re not as well recorded as these examples.
A week later Richter was in Budapest and one example of his programme is given in this WHRA release; Funérailles. Kevin Bazzana has written a very good overview of Richter’s career, but it would have been very interesting to have learned what Richter thought about this performance, because fortunately his comments have been preserved and have been published elsewhere. ‘A success and (forgive me) I’m almost proud of it’ - and this despite his complaints of a mediocre piano. Yes, the piano’s relative mediocrity can be confirmed but so too the excellence of the performance, maybe his very best recording of the piece.
We stay in Budapest, but over three years later, for performances he gave with the Hungarian State Orchestra under János Ferencsik on 27 September 1961. The Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Melodies, S123 and the Concerto No.2 were given at the same concert at which he’d also performed Bartók’s Concerto No.2: not a concert to be undertaken by the faint-hearted. The Fantasy is a bravura specimen of Richter’s digital sophistication, a glittering colour-conscious exposé of Liszt’s brilliant vapidity. His concerto recording with Kondrashin of the Second Concerto is something of a classic, but this live example is not much less impressive. Bravura, élan, introspection and poetic refinement coalesce in a performance of real power.
Both the Fantasy and Funérailles have been released before, on the Music & Arts label, but they are well worth seeking out if you’ve not already got them. The whole programme is a feast, in fact, of Richter’s Liszt caught in live performance.
Jonathan Woolf

A feast of Richter’s Liszt caught live. 

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