Richter fans must so often content themselves with poor quality recordings
made live in less than ideal circumstances on even less ideal equipment.
The good news is that everything here, although live, is in sound
ranging from at least tolerably good to excellent; only the concerto
is in mono. Be careful, however; this latest Brilliant Classics issue
is simply a re-packaging of the Beethoven stripped out from an earlier
5 CD set also containing the Liszt B minor sonata and four Schubert
sonatas. This was the first time these recordings had appeared on
CD; for anyone like me wanting just Richter’s Beethoven, already
having his Schubert sonatas on various bargain labels such as Regis
and Alto, this is the ideal economy package - but Richter completists
will want to avoid duplication.
The sonatas were recorded over ten years in 1965, 1972 and 1975 with
the latter being by the far the best, sonically speaking, although
the artistry is uniformly dazzling throughout; this is Richter at
his peak. The bonus is a mono recording of the Piano Concerto no.
3, made with a conservatory student orchestra conducted by Kurt Sanderling
in 1952, also previously released by Brilliant in their Richter Concerto
While we must be grateful to Brilliant for issuing so many previously
unavailable, high-quality recordings at such affordable prices, their
mixing and matching repackaging strategies can be confusing. No more
confusing, however, than Richter’s discography in general, so
this remains a tempting compilation, especially when so many of the
vintage recordings made in the Soviet Union were often so distorted
and edgy; these are eminently listenable, despite being a bit brittle
and boomy. There is some coughing, especially irritating in Op.110,
a fair amount of background noise and some pre-echo and intermittent
pitch fluctuations in the original tapes which have not been corrected.
This is especially noticeable in the Andante of Op.109. That said,
none of this will deter the Richter aficionado.
Op.101 is wonderfully free and Romantic so it’s a pity about
the distortion in the crashing chords at the beginning of the second
movement. Humour and wit may not be the qualities we first associate
with Richter but they are to the fore in the delightfully capricious
Allegro which concludes the sonata.
Relief from trying sound issues comes in the form of the sound for
Op.111. The pianist’s fierce intensity in the Allegro sweeps
all before it at a whirlwind tempo. Indeed, the three items from 1975
are those by far the easiest on the ear and best permit the listener
to appreciate the clarity and firmness of Richter’s touch in
the more percussive sections. Thus the reversion on CD2 from the 1975
recording of Op.7 to Op.31. No.2 is an aural disappointment. The ear
soon compensates, such is the majesty of Richter’s playing in
. One cougher needed ejecting, however.
Yet while expecting his trademark dynamism I am always surprised afresh
by the sweet fluidity Richter’s playing in lyrical passages
such as the “singbar” second movement of Op.90. It’s
a mood which carries over into the cantabile first movement of Op.109
before the cascading waves of arpeggios and the thunderous development
in which we hear the Olympian style more typically associated with
In the more playful movements of earlier sonatas such as No.3 Richter
plays with such brio and communicates a real joy in Beethoven’s
invention; his energy is irresistible. While the quality of recorded
sound in the items from 1965 is sometimes a cause for mild regret,
there is compensation in the way Richter demonstrates his mastery
over the gamut of Beethoven’s emotional range. This Sonata No.3,
which bridges the world of Haydn and the new sensibility, is among
those in the best sound.
The live Third Piano Concerto is the earliest of Richter’s accounts
on record. It is inevitably a little boxy and the performance is hardly
the last word in refinement. The woodwind are sometimes approximate
in intonation but Richter’s virtuosity is what catches the ear.
Sanderling is a flexible, accommodating conductor, understanding his
soloist’s needs. There is not too much lingering rubato in the
. The concluding Rondo
is exceptionally swift,
conclusion offering ample opportunity for Richter
to demonstrate his phenomenal prestidigitation.
A biography and extensive notes on each work are provided in the booklet.
Masterwork Index: Beethoven