Legendary Treasures?

Michael Lukey
viernes, 25 de mayo de 2007
Sviatoslav Richter Archives Vol. 1. Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 28 in A major, op. 101; Piano Sonata No. 30 in E major, op. 109; Piano Sonata No. 31 in A flat major, op. 110; Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, op. 111. Sviatoslav Richter, piano. Digital Remastering and sonic restoration: Jacob Harnoy at the DOREMI Laboratories. Series director, research and notes: Ates Tanin. One compact disc, total playing time 78 minutes. Recorded at Ohrid, Macedonia, July 30 1971 (opp. 101 and 109), and Tokyo, Japan, June 1, 1974 (opp. 110 and 111). DOREMI DHR-7718.
0,0001683 This first volume of Doremi’s Legendary Treasures series of recordings by Sviatoslav Richter was apparently released in 1998; eleven further volumes have since been issued. The entire series is listed at the web -fans of this pianist are probably best advised to check their bank balances before visiting the site, with most of the recordings being first time releases on CD! Undoubtedly, the seventeen discs that make up the twelve volumes are crammed with musical treasures. Whether the contents of the present disc can be described as such is open to question, however; Richter did not always seem at his most comfortable with late Beethoven, and while certain moments on this disc are revelatory, the overall effect left me feeling rather uneasy.

The first track on the CD, the opening movement of Op. 101, causes a concern that is repeated at moments throughout these performances. Beethoven marked this movement Etwas lebhaft und mit der innigsten Empfindung (‘Somewhat lively, and with the most heartfelt expression’). But intimate feeling is not what Richter conveys. Nor is this what we hear in the brief and mysterious third movement, marked Langsam und sehnsuchtsvoll (‘Slowly and with yearning’). Rather, Richter seems to stroll through these movements in a detached, if not quite mechanical, way. Movements II and IV are undeniably exciting at times, but II (Lebhaft. Marschmässig, or Lively. Marchlike) seems too frenzied for a march, and while Richter meets Beethoven’s instruction for determinedness in IV, the resolve is so strong that other qualities desirable for this piece seem to get knocked out of the way.

Richter takes the first two movements of Op. 109 at a faster tempo than most pianists. Hearing the Vivace sections of the opening movement played in a genuinely lively way makes a refreshing change, with the parenthetical Adagio passages contrasting even more strikingly than usual with the surrounding material. One could hardly complain about the manic plunge into the E minor second movement – after all, it was marked Prestissimo by Beethoven. Indeed, by the end of this movement Richter has left the listener with an ominous feeling of what is to come. The theme and variations that make up two thirds of this sonata, and ultimately close it, are a high-point on the present CD. The sarabande-like theme itself does not get the most meditative of performances, but in the serene variations that follow Richter at last seems to relax, and Beethoven’s instruction mit innigster Empfindung is genuinely met. The astonishing climax of this movement, which has been described by William Kinderman as ‘a kind of radioactive break-up’ of the slow cantabile theme, is as overwhelming here as in many ‘legendary’ recordings from the past century. One relatively minor down side is the eruption of applause during the final chord. In Beethoven’s autograph score, he marks for the pedal to be employed for this chord and then not released – the effect of this ‘protest against termination’ is unfortunately destroyed in the current recording.

The performance of Op. 110, recorded in Tokyo in 1974, is also one that can be recommended. The moderato cantabile molto espressivo opening meets all of Beethoven’s instructions – taking a slightly slower tempo than one often hears, Richter’s tender treatment of this movement results in an exquisite performance. The second movement is certainly not played Allegro molto, as marked by Beethoven, and given the abundance of humour in this scherzo, one wonders why Richter chose such a restrained approach. Nevertheless, restraint prevails throughout, with a slower-than-usual, but still compelling rendition of the concluding Fuga movement.

The low-point of this CD for me is the performance of the final sonata, Op. 111. Having heard two other equally unconvincing recordings of Richter playing this piece (both from the early 1990s), it seems reasonable to suggest that he was not merely having an ‘off day’ during this Tokyo recital. The first movement is the most problematic, as Richter’s exaggerated treatment of the marked tempo changes weakens both the structure and the essential strong forward motion. My main criticism of the final movement is a simple one: it feels rushed. Looking at a handful of other recordings, Richter’s 15:11 for this movement compares with Ohlsson’s 20:24, Brendel’s 18:18, Kuerti’s 18:16, Arrau’s 19:37, and Schnabel’s 17:46. While Richter’s treatment of the variations is coherent, he fails to capture the ethereal quality of the music. Furthermore, any performance of this set of variations must tie in with the preceding movement: Beethoven hints at the Arietta more than once in the opening movement, and numerous musicians have used expressions such as the ‘Here and Beyond’ (Edwin Fischer) to describe the dichotomy of the masterpiece. For me, Richter fails to convey the essential ‘wholeness’ of the composition.

Although frequently interesting, Richter’s interpretations of late Beethoven are not always satisfying. I cannot recommend Richter’s recordings of Op. 111, but on the present disc both Op. 109 and, especially, Op. 110 are worthy of the title ‘Legendary Treasures’.
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