Beethoven/Brahms Sviatoslav Richter's Boston Debut
Number 9 in Top Albums of 2011 - Classical re-issues section: 'The great Russian pianist live on his first visit to America, in 1960.' --Top 100 Albums of 2011 - David Cairn's selection of Classical Re-issues.
On listening to these discs it seemed to me that the partnership between Richter and his Boston hosts was at its most fruitful in the Beethoven. The Brahms, though admirable in many ways, has its rough edges. The very opening of the first movement is taken very broadly indeed a bit too broadly for my taste. The first orchestral tutti (from 1:44) sounds very hard driven and Richter's solo leading up to it is a bit splashy. I wondered if this hard-driven impression derived from the recorded sound, which can be a touch harsh in loud passages. However, as the movement unfolded I came to the view that Munch's way with the orchestral score tends to be rather too vigorous at times. The louder passages sound somewhat emphatic and one has the impression that everyone is trying just a bit too hard. Having heard several live Brahms performances from Boston under Pierre Monteux in recent months I couldn t help but wonder if the results here might have been better had Le Maître been on the rostrum. However, that's perhaps less than fair to Munch and it has to be said that the more reflective passages in this movement come off well. Richter displays considerable virtuosity in the face of the often formidable demands of the solo part though he's not infallible. Neither is the BSO principal horn player, who has a distinctly shaky and exposed few moments at 9:10. My overall impression is that this movement doesn't quite come off though there s much to admire along the way. Thereafter, however, matters improve significantly. Everyone sounds much more at ease in II; this movement is given a dynamic and assured reading. For me, the Andante shows the value of issuing live concert recordings. The tone is set by the fine, nutty-toned cello solo (Samuel Mayes?) and then we find Richter in reflective, elevated mood. This is a distinguished account of one of Brahms's most sublime movements, nowhere more so than in the passage (from 7:42) that leads back to the reprise of the cello solo (at 9:48). This is inspirational playing, caught on the wing and possibly never repeatable except that it's preserved here for us. The concerto ends with a felicitous reading of the sunny finale. Here both soloist and orchestra offer high spirits and also passages of great delicacy. Though there are a few reservations about the Brahms performance the Beethoven concerto strikes me as a pretty unqualified success. The reading of I is very fine. The pacing seems well-nigh ideal and Richter's pianism is of the highest order; his playing is, by turns, nimble, graceful and dynamic. Munch and his orchestra are excellent partners for him. One passage stood out for me; at 8:49 Richter's pianissimo chromatic triplets are just exquisite before the soloist's headlong downward plunge to the recapitulation. Richter offers the longest and most challenging of Beethoven s cadenzas (12:45-16:14) and gives a brilliant account of it. In II Richter is rapt and patrician and he plays with great refinement. The tempo is spacious but the performers fully vindicate the choice of speed. There are one or two minor tonal blemishes in the orchestral accompaniment but these are insufficient to mar a captivating performance caught on the wing. The Rondo is brilliant and vital and the ovation that greets the end of the performance is entirely justified. A will be noted from the track listing at least some of the radio announcements have been retained and this I like; it increases the sense of occasion. The transfers are from the original broadcast tapes . I imagine that the broadcast was by station WGBH, the long-time broadcasting partner of the BSO... This was an important occasion in the career of Sviatoslav Richter and this great pianist's many admirers should ensure they hear these discs. John Quinn --Musicweb international