Collection: Sviatoslav Richter in the 1950s

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COMPOSERS: Schumann
LABELS: Parnassus
WORKS: Piano Sonata No. 7; Five Transcriptions from Cinderella; Visions fugitives (excerpts); Toccata, Op. 7; Cloches a travers es feullles; Valse oubllee No. 1; Grand Sonata in G; Preludes (excerpts); Etudes, Op. 10/1 & 3
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Richter (piano)USSR State SO/Nathan Rachlin
CATALOGUE NO: PACD 96-001/2, 96-003/4 ADD mono

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In the Fifties, Sviatoslav Richter had not yet performed in Britain, but was almost a legend on the strength of recordings. Most of them are imperfect documents of concerts. These, recently disinterred, are better than some, and reasonably consistent: boxy and thin, with a sizzle.

The performances, all given in Moscow between 1952 and 1958, show a very different Richter from the hermetic pianist of recent years. Here he is firing on all guns, tearing wildly through Mussorgsky’s Pictures, but treating the Schumann Toccata as the great work it is, not merely a virtuoso exercise. He seems ready to take any risk, and vamps while he tries to recover his memory in the middle movement of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata, of which he gave the first performance.

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He’s caught more happily in Prokofiev’s shorter pieces, he’s typically compelling in Scriabin, whose mysterious and manic qualities seem so close to his own nature, and he’s uninhibited in Rachmaninov. Because of the antique sound and nature of the compilations, these volumes are mainly for Richter fans, who will value the sense of the great man on the high wire, without a safety net. Adrian Jack