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.