INKPOT#56 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: The Essential Richter – The Sofia Recital 1958

The Essential Richter – The Sofia Recital 1958

Pictures at an Exhibition (original version)FRANZ SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Moments musical in C, D.780 No 1
Impromptus in E flat D899 No.2 and A flat D899, No.4

Etude in E, op 10 No 2

FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
Valses oublies No. 1 in F sharp and No.2 in A flat
Trancendental Etudes No.5 and No 11


PHILIPS Classics 454 167-2
[“] full-price

Johann D’Souza

This was one of the most famous recitals that Richter had given in Sofia, Bulgaria in February 1958. In fact the other recital that is most often quoted and said to be full of controversy is the Aldeburgh, where he played the Schubert D960 sonata – played very slowly. This time around this recital not only hailed him but confirmed his status as the leading pianist of the century.

His Mussorgsky has been hailed as the greatest recording of this work. It is not only pure fire but magic. By the time it reaches the “Great Gate of Kiev” there is not only a thunderous and powerful presence felt, but an overpowering display of virtuosity all the way to the finish. The descending chords are attacked which such ferocity and strength that even if you had blindfolded him it would not have made a difference. Richter plays the original score and his attention to dynamics and pedaling is never in question.

He goes on to play two Schubert impromptus from D899, Nos. 2 and 4, which clearly display his wide spectrum of repertoire, ranging from the Modern to the Romantics. His filigree and fluidity is a bit on the heavy side but this could also be due to the recording of the concert. When he is back at Liszt, the fire returns and like a dragon waiting to unleash, he takes on the most difficult of the Trancendental Etudes – Nos. 5 and 11 which spring to life with clear conciseness, a clear self-restraint and there is this unstoppable lan which puts him as one of the greater exponents of Liszt.

As he has only recorded eight of the twelve we get to hear him in most of them in this set of recordings. His timing and phrasing in the Etude in E, op.10 no.3 is pretty erratic with certain points done rather quickly but at other points there is this quiet abandon often I feel left a bit too long. However where he is called upon to show off his virtuosity, his awesome display is clearly manifested. The sound on this disc is relatively clear although the coughing from the audience is equally loud and at times quite distracting, especially in the Transcendental Etude No.11 where there must be a person in the audience who seemed like he had bronchitis. There is some hiss in the recording, made in 1958. It is not uncommon, I suppose, to expect this when a “live” recording is done.

Overall this disc gives you a clear impression of attending a “live” Richter concert. The atmosphere is electric, especially when it begins with a mammoth of a work like Pictures at an Exhibition and ends on the 11th Transcendental Etude by Liszt.

For those of you in Singapore, this set can be purchased (or ordered) from Sing Discs (Raffles City), HMV (The Heeren), Tower (Pacific Plaza) or Borders (Wheelock Place).

Johann D’Souza

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