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Richter in Brooklyn
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 18 in E flat major, Op. 31 No. 3 'The Hunt' (1802) [22:53]
Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, Op. 110 (1821-22) [21:37]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Variations sérieuses in D minor Op. 54 (1841) [11:47]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Rhapsody in G minor, Op. 79 No. 2 (1879) [6:32]
Intermezzo in A minor, Op. 118 No. 1 (1893) [2:33]
Intermezzo in C major, Op. 119 No. 3 (1893) [2:18]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Piano Sonata No. 2 in D minor, Op. 14 (1912) [20:29]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Étude-Tableau, Op. 39 No. 3 in F sharp minor (1916-17) [2:37]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Alborada del gracioso (Miroirs No. 4) (1904-05) [6:41]
La Vallee des Cloches (Miroirs No. 5) (1904-05) [6:42]
George GERSHWIN (1898–1937)
Piano Concerto in F major (1925) [35:42]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
Latvian National Symphony Orchestra/Paul Mägi
rec. live, 22 April 1965, Brooklyn Academy of Music and 24 June 1993, Grand Theater, Tours, France (Gershwin). Mono except for Gershwin
PARNASSUS PACD96061-62 [67:49+70:33]

The USP here is that Richter’s 1965 Brooklyn recital is heard in full for the first time. If you can have two unique selling points then you can add that there’s an unpublished performance of Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F, in stereo, from a concert in Tours in June 1993.

It’s not too long ago that I reviewed the only other known recording marking Richter’s infatuation with this work (see review). There I noted Richter’s bewilderment at Entremont and Ormandy’s Gershwin recordings and how Richter’s own approach struck me as lumpen and stylistically misconceived. If things are slightly better here it’s because of the conductor, Paul Mägi, who had a background playing jazz violin and is a worthy conductor of this piece. Richter treats the slow movement as a romantic cantabile and the finale is pianistically very heavy-handed; full marks to Mägi for keeping things going.

The Brooklyn recital was recorded in situ on tape by an audience member and is not from a broadcast, so that one has to accept the limitations that this involves. Nevertheless, there are some brilliant moments to be heard in this high-voltage evening. Take the Prokofiev sonata, which is far more unsettled and ambiguous than in Richter’s Royal Festival Hall recital of around the same time, released on BBC Legends. True, the recording is necessarily dry and brittle in fortes and there are coughs, but this is a visceral and galvanic reading fully deserving of the barely controlled roars of approval from the audience.

Both the Rachmaninov and Ravel pieces exert an almost hypnotic spell. Though much quieter here there are still coughs and I assume one very nearby nasal or oral detonation has accounted for a one-second dropout in Alborada - a very brief and sadly fruitless attempt by Parnassus to mitigate the damage. One can also hear another corollary of ad hoc recital recording – loud vehicular noises.

But I would suggest having faith with this twofer. There’s an especially galvanizing performance of Beethoven’s Op.31 No.3, though here too there are dropouts, not least the blistering con fuoco finale. If you know the live performance on Brilliant Classics you should know that this Brooklyn reading is even more exciting, and he is rather more expressive in the slow movement of Op.110 than in the performance in the same Brilliant box. Something, though, has gone awry with the tracking here; the first two movements are singly tracked on track five, track six starts with the Adagio man non troppo of the finale and the final track picks up with its fuga. The Mendelssohn Variations has an Abram Chasins-like quality about it and it impresses powerfully.

There is no denying the irritations to be encountered from time to time during the course of this recital, which as noted is appearing in full for the first time. Equally, there’s no gainsaying the ferocity and sensitivity of the performances.

Jonathan Woolf

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