BBC Legends has added its fair share of new recordings to the vast Richter discography of live performances. The pianist made far more appearances in London than in any other European capital outside Prague, much less the United States, a country he objected to as a good Soviet artist. The lead reviewer gives unqualified praise to the material on this Cd, all of it from the BBC archives, but Richter performed all three works ore than once in front of a microphone, so we can afford to be choosy.
In the case of Papillons, it's indisputable that Richter was one of the greatest of modern Schumann interpreters, yet his spontaneous interpretations can approach extremes and even turn reckless. That "papillon" is French for butterfly shouldn't mislead the newcomer - Richter indulges in considerable brashness and violent outbursts of sudden attack that are uncomfortable in the piano's upper octave. Be prepared for some clangy, pingy sounds. Volume levels have to be kept low to avoid sensory overload. However, the same is true of his EMI studio recording from 1962, itself not in great sound, so despite considerable tape hiss, this live performance from Jan. 27, 1963 is to be preferred. I find no other alternatives in the online Richter discography. My copy is a download, but the sound surely is in mono unless my ears are fooling me. the piano is a good one.
As for the Schubert sonata, Richter has been recorded in it five times between 1957 and 1972, none of them in the studio. Speaking as someone who has hunted for a reading that doesn't take a semi-preposterous 24 min. in the first movement, I can attest that Richter adopted the same approach every time, so it's mostly a matter of finding the best sound. This 1964 performance from the Aldeburgh Festival has had many releases, the chief competitor being Prague, 1972. Again there is considerable tape hiss, but the piano is closer and easier to listen to than in the Schumann, and the recording is in stereo. Richter had the charisma to carry off his initial slow tempo (if anyone can), and the rest of the reading is sublime.
Next to the Piano Cto. in A minor, the Introduction and Allegro Appassionato is probably Schumann's best known work for piano and orchestra, even if it runs a very distant second. Two Richter readings exist, this one with Benjamin Britten and the English Chamber Orch. from June 16, 1965 and an official DG release with Wislocki and the Warsaw Nat'l Orch. from six years earlier (April 29, 1959). both are in stereo, but I prefer Britten's conducting and the excellent playing of his musicians, which isn't to gainsay that Richter is wonderful on the other occasion as well. The DG in its main CD issue is paired with the Schumann piano concerto, posing another issue of duplication. He delivers a second, very magnetic reading on EMI.
chasing down the best Richter concerts is a fascinating game that carries built-in frustrations, duplications being just one. At the very least this BBC Legends disc passes the test for great performances in listenable sound. Unless you enjoy hunting down CDs without knowing anything about them in advance, here is a safe place to land.