on 31 December 2008
Although it is infuriating (almost unforgivably!) that there is no Chopin or Liszt here, this is a conceptually superb collection from the numerous Richter recordings that have yet to be faithfully and flawlessly transferred into the definitive collection of this Master Pianist. The remastered quality is excellent, and the battery of different stylistic ranges and musical epochs that Richter conquers is formidable.
Renowned for the almost insane energy with which he seems to manhandle and throw the piano around, whilst equally capable of those tender caressing notes too, Richter effortlessly locks horns with the scores from sonata, quintet, concerto and triple concerto forms for both piano and violin. Dynamic, dazzling, stunning, fiercely energetic and committed to every note, Richter can connect with the real story, the real passion behind the score of notes. He transforms what I once saw as predictable histrionic sentimentality (often played in the dry, sterile technical snobbery of a narrow elitist clique of pianists & classicists) of the Romantic composers into an arresting poetic drama. His performances are simply monumental - and he chooses to work with only those scores and conductors where his mystical connection with music can flare into flames of inspiration that pierce the dark and the dead. The booklet accompanying calls this selection 'Grace Under Fire'...!
Technically, Richter can deliver you into the hands of exquisite tranquillity (Grieg, Schumann, Mozart), the strident humanistic confidence and tender optimism of Schubert and Brahms, the stunning virtuoso interaction of piano-violin exchanges in Beethoven/Mozart Violin Sonatas, the hyper-intelligent baroque alertness and speeds of Handel's keyboard suites brought astonishingly to life, the dramatic modernist discontinuities of Dvorak, Bartok, Prokofiev and Berg, whilst almost daring orchestras to keep up with his pace, energy and sonority in the powerful 120ft high wave-of-sound confrontations with orchestras in the concertos. Mozart is the spunkiest I have ever heard him, and Beethoven restored to the majesterial, daringly pioneering, and expansive - without a hint of the yawning boredom of the familiar that afflicts both composers's performance nowadays. His work with violinist Oleg Kagan in the violin sonatas and conductors Lorin Maazel and Riccardo Muti are outstanding collaborations, full of passion, innovation and energy. Also included are what Richter despised as the farcical Triple Concerto event (Beethoven Op 56) under von Karajan's conducting as well as Carlos Kleiber whom he considered far superior to Karajan. Not a dull millisecond anywhere whether you agree with him or not!
Due to the woeful lack of information on the whole Icon range, I hope its useful to have the breakdown, especially since the cover artwork doesn't mention Dvorak, Bartok, and Alban Berg. So:
CD1: Beethoven - Piano Sonatas 1, 7, 17 (Tempest)
CD2: Schubert - Piano Sonata (Wanderer Fantasy in C); Schumann - Fantasy in C
CD3: Schumann - Papillons, Piano Sonata No. 2, Faschingsswank aus Wien
CD4: Beethoven - Violin Sonata No. 5 (Spring); Schubert - Piano Quintet (Trout)
CD5: Mozart - Violin Sonatas (K306, 378, 372)
CD6: Handel - Keyboard Suites (2, 3, 5, 8)
CD7: Handel - Keyboard Suites (9, 12, 14, 16)
CD8: Brahms - Die Schone Magelone (Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau)
CD9: Mozart - Piano Concerto No 22; Beethoven - Piano Concerto No 3
CD10:Beethoven - Triple Concerto; Violin Sonata No 4
CD11:Brahms - Piano Concerto No 2; Mozart - Violin Sonata (K379)
CD12:Dvorak - Piano Concerto; Bartok - Piano Concerto No 2
CD13:Grieg - Piano Concerto; Schumann - Piano Concerto
CD14:Prokofiev - Piano Concerto No 5; Berg - Chamber Concerto
You can see immediately how this provides fascinating study material for comparatives on style and content - and Richter works with orchestras and ensembles from Paris, London, Moscow, Monte Carlo and Munich to deliver this colossal offering.
In terms of connection with the mystical and transcendental dimension of music, Richter has only one rival for me - Alfred Cortot. Not even the prodigious Ashkenazy can rival Richter's total output. But where Cortot almost makes his notes hover in your mind, Richter burns the physicality of the piano's body into your head - through which you are led to the transcendent feel and the mystical visions of the human heart and spirit, restoring uniqueness and dignity to our humanity.
Given this is merely a tiny fraction of his total output, and whilst we await Decca's remastering of the rest (not to mention the Carnegie Hall concerts), this collection for now will definitely be off the Richter scale for me.
on 15 November 2013
Richter belongs to a school of pianism that is some way in the past now. These recordings range from 1961 to 1980, predominantly dating from the 1970s, an era when the lyricism of the melodic line was in the foreground and there was much less rigid adherence to textural clarity. Richter was a complete master on these terms.
I have a special love for his Schubert and early Beethoven. Some will find Richter a mite heavy-handed in the quirkiest Schumann moments, but I enjoy being reminded there is more than one way to do Schumann. Handel period purists will be horrified at the dramatic use of the modern grand and the less than academic ornamentation in the eight keyboard suites that Richter plays here, but I have an open mind when faced with such complete musicianship and I am not ashamed to tell you I thought them delightful. The concerti may fill a gap or two in your library but would not be first choices in most cases, although I absolutely loved hearing Richter deliver Benjamin Britten's brilliant cadenzas (specially wriotten for him) in Mozart's K 482.
In all this is phenomenal vaue, a wonderful portrait of a wonderful pianist.
on 14 September 2013
There are some tremendous performances here along with some not-so-good. But at the price no Richter fan should miss this. There are the astounding performances of Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann keyboard music along with the famous Handel keyboard suites. Of the concertos there's good ones of the Grieg and Schumann, a Mozart 22 with dreadful cadenzas by Britten, a rather tame a Beethoven 3, the famous Dvorak with Kleiber and a storming Bartok 2 - fantastic!
The Brahms 2 doesn't match Richter's earlier version, mainly because the French orchestra is nothing like as good as the CSO, but the much released Triple Concerto is really fine, despite Richter's caustic comments about it. He never got on with Karajan!
There are more items including a Brahms song cycle where Richter accompanies Fisher-Diskau and a Berg Chambre concerto I am plucking up the courage to listen to. Nothing on these discs is without interest and much of it is very special indeed.
I bought this box set solely for the 1997 Paris live recording of Berg's Chamber Concerto, which had been unavailable for long time. This is a very comlex and demanding work both for players and listeners, but Richter's masterful command of the piano part and the sheer intensity of his playing makes for an utterly compelling listening experience.
The rest of the set consists of the recordings (mostly live) that are still widely available on EMI Double Forte and other budget reissues. Soundwise, I could not detect any difference, so I assume they haven't done any remastering for this box set. These performances never cease to amaze me for the depth and purity of music making. The piano becomes a living being under Richter's hands.
on 5 September 2010
Admirers of Richter's unique style will need no review to tell them that this set is extraordinary value and essential listening, so I am directing this review at those who are interested in exploring one of the great pianists of the 20th century. The previous reviewer (Previn Karian) outlines lucidly Richter's qualities. A very `physical' pianist, I find something percussive in his tone, particularly in faster, louder moments, but equally the ability to sing with a warm legato line, and it tends to be in slow movements that I like him best. Richter is unquestionably a magical pianist and listening to his account of the slow movement of the Schumann concerto, to take only one example, one finds a Romantic weight and richness without the cloying sentimentality that often goes with it. Yet Richter is never cold or distant, always sympathetic to the demands of composer and piece.
The caveat is that few of these performances would be my first choice: exceptions to that are the Bartok, Prokofiev and Dvorak Concerti, and I admit I don't like his Schubert, preferring the likes of Perahia, Tirimo, Brendel and Klien. For me it is at times too brittle, though I know many feel very differently and my objections are more a matter of taste and sensibility, because Richter certainly has much to say about this music too. He was never one to take the obvious or easy route; his recording of the Berg Chamber Concerto, for example, is the only one (as far as I am aware) to include the repeats and, though, I don't believe you need them, it does add a whole other dimension to the music. I particularly enjoyed his collaborations with the violinist Oleg Kagan, in both Mozart and Beethoven, in which one gets a sense of two equals probing and examining as partners in a great adventure. It brings a freshness to the music and an excitement, as if (paradoxically) hearing the music again for the first time.
And indeed Richter is often revelatory in his view of standard repertoire. The Mozart recordings exemplify this. The set offers a performance of the Concerto in E flat (no. 22) that is individual and idiosyncratic, yet wholly convincing in its vision, and it is wonderful to hear Britten's cadenzas. Admittedly I prefer both Perahia and Uchida in this music, but Richter is inspired, refreshing one's view of what is possible. Perhaps the most surprising inclusion is the Brahms Die Schone Magalone, a song cycle in which he accompanies the great Fischer-Dieskau in a lesser known masterpiece that well deserves to be heard when treated with such affection and concentration. I say accompanies, though again one has a sense of partnership, a meeting of equals determined to winkle out the subtleties of the piece.
The set is, as another reviewer says, incomplete. The live account of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition is a must and there are other performances by Richter of Beethoven sonatas and concerti that better demonstrate why many regard him as such a great Beethovenian. Nonetheless, at this price, 14 discs of recordings by such a great musician as Richter undoubtedly is an exceptional bargain and not too be missed.
on 26 January 2013
The consistency, the focus, the tenderness, the power, the technique...it's all there, and this set is wonderous. God must listen to Richter, a lot. (ok, so I'm embellishing, but Richter's playing just blows me away and this set is a great find)