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Sviatoslav Richter (piano) In Sofia Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-81) Pictures at an Exhibition [29:40] Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moment musical in C, D780 No. 1 [5:40]
Impromptus - E flat, D899 No. 2 [4:12]; A flat, D899 No. 4 [7:14] Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-49)
Etude in E, Op. 10 No. 3 [4:08] Franz LISZT (1811-86)
Valses oubliées, S215 - No. 1 in F sharp [2:50]; No. 2 in A flat [5:45]
Etudes d'exécution trascedente, S139 - No. 5, 'Feux follets' [3:33] No. 11, 'Harmonies du soir' [9:04]
Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
rec. 1958, Sofia PARNASSUS PACL95001 [72:50]
As Gavin Dixon reminds the reader in his notes, what has become popularly known as ‘the Sofia recital’ was actually a sequence of recitals in the city which also included performances in Budapest and formed part of a short Richter tour. The Sofia recitals took place over consecutive days in February and early March. Pictures at an Exhibition was released on a famous Philips LP in 1960, the remainder of the recital following on CD. The last time I saw it on the label was in the 50 Great Recordings series on 464 734-2. It remained, despite the inevitable aural flaws and Richter’s many slips, one of his favourite recordings and one of the most inspiring and incendiary performances of Pictures on disc.
Richter’s unequivocating daring in his extremes of dynamics, his powerhouse attacks, his sonorous amplitude and his unceasing sense of narrative drama alike make this a must-have recording though as ever it sounds limited in breadth in this latest transfer which is remastered from existing discs. There is little to be done entirely to mitigate slight moments of inherent distortion and a lack of keyboard clarity. Given the circumstances, however, you will hardly quibble.
But there was always more to the recitals than Mussorgsky. Though he was later to become notorious for the marmoreal nature of his Schubert sonata performances – heroically static vehicles for his reverence for the composer - the three examples here, two Impromptus and the Moment musical, are beautifully refined and deeply expressive as is the Chopin Etude. The two Liszt Valse oubliées and 'Feux follets' and 'Harmonies du soir' offer studies in contrast and in virtuoso control and were available in Philips’ Great Pianists of the 20th Century marque coupled, inter alia, with a raft of Prokofiev sonatas.
This is well tilled-discographic soil and the irrelevant imperfections of performance – in the same way that Cortot’s dropped notes are an irrelevance – and the sonically compromised recordings should in no way put you off acquiring these magnificent readings.