WORKS: Harpsichord Concerto, BWV 1052; Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1061; Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1064; Harpsichord Concerto BWV 1065
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-99873-2 ADD
Strange (and undisclosed) circumstances brought Karl Richter, a Protestant pastor’s son from eastern Germany, via the hallowed training grounds of the Dresden Kreuzkirche and St Thomas’s Leipzig, to be Cantor of St Mark’s Church, Munich, in the heart of Catholic Bavaria, in 1951. A similar paradox presents Richter as a seminal expert in Baroque music performance just too early to be influenced by ‘authenticist’ discoveries. It might be concluded that, as a man and as a musician, he was twice homeless. This 19-disc anthology gives ample opportunity to assess his importance in that ‘middle ground’ between the principally humane musical values of a past tradition and the historically vital considerations of the present. Inevitably, it’s a mixed bag.
As a solo keyboard player in Bach’s harpsichord and organ works, Richter puts indisputable dexterity to the service of a strong structural sense. There is, for example, a spellbinding inevitability to the great Toccata which opens Partita No. 6 and an enviable ability to be clean but not too cool in the G major Organ Fantasia. Teldec, though, hardly aids its cause by giving only four access tracks to the Goldberg Variations.
The Handel organ concertos set is rather special: affection without affectation, attractive, varied registration and, overall, confirming what Measurable hours can be had from listening to these pieces.
The disc of symphonies (including the most turgid Mozart 29th I could ever imagine) is best avoided and the Brandenburg Concertos have nothing very original to say here, but the double-CD set devoted to the Mozart concertante works for flute is a tremendous joy. Aurele Nicolet’s playing is disarmingly beautiful throughout and, in the Flute and Harp Concerto, captures all the fragility and tenderness, passion and pathos of this indestructible work. This performance rivals the very best.
The Bach cantatas and Christmas Oratorio (without texts, to Teldec’s shame) have their moments of celebration but do surprisingly little for Richter’s reputation as a choral conductor. To say that some of the chorales, for example, are ‘devotional’ would be only a euphemism meaning very slow. He did better later and others have done better still. The Mozart Requiem is committed enough but not competitive.
A fascinating historical document (despite inadequate documentation) with some valuable gems but, I suspect, the entire set is for aficionados only. David Wilkins