LABELS: Live Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: Sviatoslav Richter Ð Out of Later Years
WORKS: Vol. 1: Fantasias, BWV 921 & 906; Ballades; Rondo in C
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: LCL 471, 472, 481, 491, 421 (distr. Complete)
Like most artists, great and otherwise, Richter was more erratic in old age than in his prime, and more prone to eccentricity – mostly as regards tempo. But the exaggerated slowness of some of his Schubert was not an aberration of his dotage (a dotard he never was), nor was it typical of his playing in general, even at the end of his life. All the present performances were recorded at the concerts of his last five years, and they demonstrate with singular force that his genius was undimmed, and nothing like as wayward as legend would have it. The only striking oddity here is the scherzo of Beethoven’s Op. 110 (Vol. 3), which is almost Gouldian in its apparent perversity, blatantly contradicting Beethoven’s tempo marking, and resembling a scherzo hardly at all. For the most part, though, I find the playing on each of these five discs is almost uniquely compelling, riveting the attention to the music itself, from start to finish. The all-Bach Vol. 5 has a spiritual and pianistic purity which is uniquely Richterown. It attains a simplicity which is beyond sophistication. Neither ascetic nor monk-like, and tinged with a solitude which is beyond loneliness, it haunts the mind and cleanses the spirit. Yet it also manages to convey the contagious joy which is one of Bach’s most precious attributes.
The all-Beethoven disc (Vol. 4) makes a fitting companion to the similar BBC Legends release reviewed in February. Not greatly different from the Beethoven performances with which he introduced himself to the West almost 40 years earlier, these have a conviction that renders all comparisons not so much odious as irrelevant. For the duration of each performance this is simply how the music is.
Not even Gilels was as authoritative and compelling a player of Prokofiev as Richter was (Prokofiev said that whenever he heard Richter play his music he felt that he was hearing it for the first time), nor could the legendary Gieseking surpass him in the French repertoire, particularly in Debussy and Ravel. To listen to his playing here of Ravel’s Miroirs and to realise that we are listening to a man in his 80th year almost defies belief (though not even Richter could equal Lipatti in ‘Alborada’).