Richter Rediscovered: Carnegie Hall Recital 1960
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RCA Victor's Richter Rediscovered lets us hear Sviatoslav Richter perform with intensity and purpose he rarely matched and still more rarely surpassed. This two-CD set comprises Richter's entire Dec. 26, 1960, Carnegie Hall recital and several encores from the same program two days later in Newark's Mosque Theater. Most transcripts of Richter's live performances miss details in his playing--the prismatic shimmer of his tone in all registers, for example, or the way he could instantaneously jump from triple pianissimo to triple fortissimo. But RCA's superb recorded sound does justice to the pianist's variety of nuance and range of dynamics. Younger listeners will now hear Richter "live" the way we older ones remember him: performing Haydn's Sonata No. 50 in C with lapidarian perfection as well as with freedom of rhythm and expression; diversifying, without diluting, the savagery of Prokofiev's Sonata No. 6 by employing softer colors than those usually heard; playing Rachmaninov's Prelude in A with gigantic chords made more all the more impressive by the subtle emergence of the delicate melody from within them; and endowing Chopin's Étude in A flat (Op. 10, No. 10) with breathtaking poetry through ingenious variations of touch and rhythm. --Stephen Wigler
Richter was generally miserable on his American début tour between October 1960 and January 1961, frankly admitting that he played badly in his first Carnegie Hall recital and refusing to sanction the issue of recordings (some did nevertheless briefly appear on LP). But according to RCA's introductory note, he did approve the stereo recordings of two extra concerts scheduled to cope with the extraordinary demand for tickets. The first of these, again at Carnegie Hall, forms the basis of the present two CDs, most of its material being previously unreleased; the second, at Newark's Mosque Theatre two days later, did come out on LP, minus the encores which are here included as a fill-up.The piano is extremely close-miked throughout, virtually eliminating ambience. We could almost be listening to a domestic recital on a baby grand in a carpeted living-room, and it is impossible to get a true impression of Richter's sound in the hall. Yet this does allow for every tiniest subtlety of attack and colour to register. Audience noise is minimal, and applause is included in truncated form. Richter's interpretations are for the most part familiar from his already compendious discography. His Haydn is satisfyingly or maddeningly severe according to taste, and there are passages where he seems to be falling back on tried-and-tested routines. But the slow movement has moments of pure genius, with a hypnotically sustained line in the lead-back to the opening theme; and behind the poker-faced exterior of the finale it is clear that he is not deaf to Haydn's humour but has merely chosen not to make the already obvious even more so.Chopin's Fourth Scherzo takes wing in flurries of quick-fire passagework, contrasted with aristocratic roundness of tone in the lyrical interludes a performance strong on fantasy. In the Third Ballade I think Harris Goldsmith is right to hear Rachmaninov's famous interpretation behind Richter's sudden spurts; yet what a fabulous sense of overall logic embraces these flights of fancy. His Rachmaninov Preludes again showcase his wonderful singing tone. The B minor is tonally seductive, yet fiercely determined in the central section, and the G sharp minor is irresistibly evocative of water running down the window-panes of a secluded dacha.Richter's notoriously impatient dash through Jeux d'eau is the kind of thing that earned Harold Schonberg's strictures on what he and other Soviet musicians at the time had to learn from contact with the West. (Schonberg's essay, printed in the RCA booklet, is a more subtle piece of journalism than any short summary could suggest.) But 'La vallée des cloches' is wonderfully sultry and evocative, as well as pin-point precise.The second disc is simply riveting. A Prokofiev Sixth Sonata flung in the face of anyone who would accuse its composer of superficiality (and there were many such opinions flying round at the time) is followed by pairs of Visions fugitives, tossed as tantalizing morsels to an insatiable audience, as are the Newark encores from two days later. It would be astonishing if any of these performances were to surpass the many Richter alternatives currently available; but they do represent him at close to his phenomenal best, and to be able to share in such historic occasions makes this new issue especially treasurable. David Fanning -- From International Record Review - subscribe now
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Top customer reviews
Listening to Richter reDiscovered, I couldn't help but recall this fortuitous event in my young life. I have many recordings of Richter, but this one is something else. If one is able to give the music total attention, an alchemy takes place where the piano disappears to become just music, the different composers and from different eras become just music and even the performer Richter, himself, is forgotten. All of the elements flow together to serve the music as a transcendental experience; to take you beyond time and space. This is why Sviatoslav Richter (to use a slang term) IS the MAN.
Through his complete mastery of the instrument, extraordinary gifts of memorization and interpretation of the composer's intent, Richter transforms Himself into an instrument: to give Meaning to the only truly abstract art form - - music.
Now it all makes sense....... human perfection IS possible. The human experience is transfigured to meanings beyond speech, beyond beliefs and ideas. Music can do that. All you have to do is listen -- to someone like Richter.
Unfortunately, from 1959 through 1961, most RCA Victor recordings utilized Ampex professional tape recorders and a rather primitive early noise reduction system known as Ampex Master Equalization. While the master tapes are certainly quiet for 1960 vintage, AME recordings often hit a "brick wall" of nasty midrange distortion during loud sections, and I suspect this was a key reason that RCA Victor refrained from issuing these stereo concert recordings for four decades. Using modern mastering technology, the BMG/RCA engineering crew apparently have taken extraordinary efforts to minimize the audibility of the unfortunate AME distortions while maintaining the sonic integrity. The highly-directional microphones are placed very close to the piano, and audience applause is not as prominent or loud as is the case on many live recordings. Suffice to say that if you love Richter's musicianship, the Living Stereo audio reproduced here will be entirely satisfactory and enjoyable.
One other point: I understand that Richter himself was highly critical of his own playing during these United States concerts, and he genuinely did not want the concert recordings released to the public. Two months earlier in Richter's U.S. concert tour, Columbia Masterworks was allowed to record some of his Carnegie Hall concerts but apparently under the condition that only a single microphone was permitted for monaural recording. Richter did NOT want those concert recordings released, but Columbia issued four LPs from the cycle against his wishes. Those LPs were withdrawn from publication a couple of years after Richter's repeated objections. It is possible that Richter did not want this stereo Carnegie Hall concert released for the same personal reasons, although he did consent to the eventual release of selections from the Mosque Theatre concerts.
So it took four decades for BMG/RCA (the former RCA Victor) to get around to releasing this extraordinary musicmaking. If you are intrigued by Sviatoslav Richter's musicianship, do not hesitate to purchase this album and enjoy!
Not surprisingly, the Russian music receives close to definitive treatment, with the Prokofiev Sixth Sonata breathtaking in capturing both the hard-edged virtuosity of the outer movements and decadent elegance of the Tempo di valzer lentissimo third movement. The Rachmaninov Preludes are a feast of warm tone and clear textures. The Prokofiev Visions Fugitives, performed as encores at both concerts, slip by like the quicksilver glimpses of fantasy they are.
The rest of the material is more controversial. The Haydn Sonata is notable for the incredible speed of its opening movement; the technique is dazzling but there is little else. The finale, oddly, proves to be on the sedate side. The Adagio, however, is beautifully shaped and balanced. The Chopin Scherzo and Third Ballade remind this listener of Horowitz, not in a good way: the music is driven too hard and loses poise, the end of the Ballade particularly difficult to endure in its overplayed clangor.
Nevertheless, as a whole, these performances are vivid and essential documents of one of the great pianistic personalities of the twentieth century. The sound is clear and perfectly acceptable, though there is little "live" ambience.