Discophage | France | 08/15/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This CD collates material that was originally scattered on three DG LPs, published around 1962-63 and representing Richter's near complete solo output owned by the German firm (there are also a number of concertos, and Rachmaninoff's 2nd had a choice of 6 Preludes as a filler). Prokofiev's 8th Sonata and the selection of three Preludes from Debussy's 1st book were recorded in London between July 28 and August 1st 1961 and came on 138766 with Chopin's 3rd Ballade and Haydn's 32nd Sonata Hob. 16:44. Scriabin's 5th Sonata and Debussy's Estampes, taped in Rome and Palermo on October 31 and November 9, 1962, came on 138849 with Chopin's 4th Ballade, Etudes op. 10/1 & 12 and Polonaise-Fantaisie. Finally the little complement of three Prokofiev Visions Fugitives was done on the same Italian tour, in November 1962 and came on 138950 with Rachmaninoff's Prelude op 32/12, Schubert's Allegretto D 915 and a choice from the Ländler D. 366, five excerpts from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier and Schumann's Variations Abegg.
Richter, as his fellow student and friend Emil Gilels, had special authority in Prokofiev. He had premiered the composer's 6th Sonata and though Gilels gave the first performance of the 8th, Richter took it on immediately. The 8th (along with the 6th) is one of the works that Richter gave on October 23, 1960, on the second of his Carnegie Hall recitals which were a part and a culmination of his first American appearance (CBS had issued a recording of this concert on LP, but I don't believe it has been reissued on CD. RCA's Richter Rediscovered [LIMITED EDITION] [ORIGINAL RECORDING REMASTERED] is a recording of the later Carnegie Hall Concert of December 26, in which Richter repeated the 6th Sonata but not the 8th). He also gave Scriabin's 5th Sonata on October 30 and repeated the piece as an encore.
These are important recordings for the Richterite. There are other Richter recordings of both these works, but not as easily available (as is sadly the case with the un-reissued October Carnegie Hall concert) and all dating from the early 1970s, when arguably the pianist wasn't at such an apex of his pianistic powers as in the early 60s. The most widely circulated of Prokofiev's 8th was on Pyramid 13503 (with 3 Shostakovitch Preludes and fugues and Myaskovsky's 3rd Sonata ) and derived from a concert given in Tours on July 8, 1973. There are two recordings of Scriabin's Sonata from September and October 1972, available on Praga PR 254056 (Chopin: Etudes; Nocturnes; Polonaise No. 7; Scriabine: Sonatas pour piano No. 2 & 5) and Arkadia CDGI 910.1 or Music & Arts CD-878 (Richter Plays Scriabin or Piano Sonatas 2,5 & 9).
Richter had always a special knack with the music of Debussy and Ravel. His sense of atmosphere and subtlety of touch was ideally suited to the French impressionists. An older generation of music lovers may remember a mesmerizing concert of Preludes book II on Turnabout (from Spoleto, July 14 1967), which began with a bell tolling noon (well, maybe it was eleven), and the pianist's footsteps on a wooden platform. Now that was starting on the spot! What followed was other-worldly, you could hardly imagine that these hazy sounds ("Brouillards") were produced by hammers hitting steel strings. Again there is a later concert of Estampes, given in Salzburg on August 26, 1977 (Sviatoslav Richter Plays Chopin, Debussy, Beethoven or Sviatoslav Richter 1977 Salzburg Recital), but again here we have Richter at the heights of his poetic and pianistic powers. There is a measure of tape hiss, but the audiences are remarkably silent (only in the Visions Fugitives are they more perceptible). All this makes it an indispensable recital for the Richter devotee.
Now with the irritating issue of duplications. Ever since the publication of the original LPs, DG has shuffled around that material in various reissues. If you are interested only in the Prokofiev pieces, they exist paired with Richter's DG recording of the 5th Piano Concerto conducted by Rowicki (Prokofiev: Piano Concerto No. 5 / Sviatoslav Richter), but then beware of possible duplication with the same Concerto in its coupling with Rachmaninoff's 2nd conducted by Wislocki (Rachmaninov: Concerto For Piano And Orchestra/Prokofiev: Concerto For Piano And Orchestra), which you'll need to buy in its pairing with Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto under Karajan (Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky: Piano Concertos / Richter). The same material as on the CD under review exists on an apparently difficult to find double CD, DG 447355, with most of the content of these three original LPs - but not the two Chopin Ballades. Finally DG has reissued a 2 CD-set, Sviatoslav Richter: In Memoriam, which reproduces all the remaining material from these original LPs (including the Ballades) plus the choice of 6 Rachmaninoff Preludes from 1959 which served as a filler to the 2nd Piano Concerto when it was first issued on LP. But that entails duplication of the Debussy pieces and Prokofiev's Visions Futivies - a small price to pay, I think, and I happily paid it.