The 20th Century's titan of the keyboard plays the 19th cent
Larry VanDeSande | Mason, Michigan United States | 01/05/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I pity modern pianists that have to go up against the memory and recorded legacy of Sviatoslav Richter (1915-97) in Beethoven's piano sonatas, for, while someone one day may match him, none can exceed his accomplishments interpreting the greatest heroic composer of history. Richter never recorded an integral set of "the 32" and he often played and recorded the 20 or so about which he had something to say artistically. Here is a prime example of what Richter had to say about some of Beethoven's less well-known but still leonine works of art for the piano.
This out of print CD, on the funky Leningrad Masters label (with two pages of skimpy, double spaced notes written by an Englishman) contains repertory the Russian loved -- especially Richter's favorite, the Sonata No. 3 Op. 2 No. 3. Here, Richter defines both himself and the composer as the titan they both became in musical history. With impetuous presitdigitation in the openin Allegro con brio, Richter propels forward in the youthful symphony of the piano, detailing every bit of Beethoven's impatient and heroic genius, circa the period before the earliest symphonies and piano concertos. Here is Beethoven spreading his gigantic wings as a young man in music befitting the romantic 19th century to come.
No pianist in my experience reaches the zenith Richter achieves in this youthful yet defining score. Most recently, I listened to Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt's take on the score. While the Sonata No. 3 was the best in a hazardly wayward recording, it was still miles from what Richter achieves. The great Russian includes the Sonatas Nos. 7 in D and 19 in G in this concert, recorded during two concert sessions in unknown places in 1960 and 1965, respectively.
I bought this after hearing a pretty good rendition of Sonata No. 7 on public radio by someone and wanting a copy for my library. I dabbled with a few pianists before finding this outstanding recording from Richter's international legacy, recorded shortly after his famous Sofia concert. Both Sonatas 7 and 19 are done equally well with the same Beethovenian projection and understanding.
Audiophiles beware for the sound is not modern and it may not sound very good on your 5.1 or 7.1 system (it's better played on your super audio player or in traditional stereo). It is typical Russian 1960s stereo with some depth and is better in the opening sonata than the ones that follow. Most sound from the Sonata 7 comes from the left channel. There are a few mistakes in production, too, including a noticeable tape bind in the opening phrase of Sonata No. 7. In my opinion, these faults are quickly overcome and do little to diminish this issue. Generous and well-earned audience applause is included.
This CD recently became available in an 85-disk set of all Beethoven's works now being circulated on the German Am@do label. Like Brilliant Classics' collection of all Beethoven's assembled works, the Am@do collection comprises recordings gathered from many sources. Critics that have reviewed the set have identified this recording being clearly the best of the set's piano sonatas, some of which are played by another of my favorite pianists, Dubravka Tomsic. Anyone wanting this recording that doesn't want to pay the stiff price advertised by Amazon vendors can get it in the Am@do set, which apparently sells for around $50 or about 60 cents per CD.
Otherwise, it's terribly unfortunate that this recording is no longer available on its own. Another great Richter recording of the Beethoven Sonatas Nos. 3, 4 and 27 -- recorded in the mid-1970s and once available on the Russian Olympia label -- was available on the English Regis label a few years back. If you can find that one, you can locate another recording of Richter pounding out the great Sonata 3 in his individual and unique way. It will be worth you time, search and money to get this if you've never heard it. When you do, however, plan on being spoiled for all other Beethoven pianists the rest of your life.
Readers that want to know why Richter was the 20th century's greatest pianist should investigate or acquire Bruno Monsaigeon's outstanding 1998 video biography, "Richter: The Enigma". There, you'll find his repertoire was wider than any other pianists of the century and all of it was better played than most of them. In one remarkable scene, you'll find the teenage Richter living in a one-room house with several families. None of that bothered him. As a pianist, he didn't directly compete with the likes of Cortot in Chopin, but he is, for my money, twice the pianist Artur Rubinstein ever became."