Schumann, Mussorgsky, Debussy

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COMPOSERS: Debussy,Mussorgsky,Schumann
LABELS: BBC Legends
WORKS: Bunte Blätter
PERFORMER: Sviatoslav Richter (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: BBCL 4103-2 ADD mono
The previous BBC Legends Richter issue, of Chopin and Debussy, was a winner. This latest – a 1968 London recital – is no less marvellous, and perhaps even more precious in the rarity value of its offerings. Schumann’s Bunte Blätter – 14 ‘album’ pieces, all but two of them early work, the collection only published in the last years of the composer’s life – is seldom played or recorded in its entirety. Reasons are not difficult to find (the 30-plus-minute length of the whole, and the disparate nature of individual pieces relative to, say, Carnaval), yet in the hands of a pianist at once a genius of touch, colour and texture, a master of scale and dimension, a poet, visionary and lyricist, it becomes a sublime experience.

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Richter, always at his best in smaller halls, was on top form at Goldsmiths’ Hall in 1968. This demonstration of his peerless qualities as a Schumann pianist – Arcadi Volodos’s fine recent Bunte Blätter disc for Sony pales by comparison – proves as much. So does Richter’s Mussorgsky: a celebrated achievement caught here in perhaps less white-hot estate than on the famous live 1958 Sofia recording (reissued in the Philips ‘Great Pianists’ series) but in clearer sound, more smoothly paced, and with a steadily accruing grandeur that I find awesome. As I do his Debussy. A few coughs and a sound-picture of good balance but limited dynamic range are the (tiny) price to pay for an altogether enthralling sample of Richter’s greatness. Max Loppert