Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Sviatoslav Richter: Liszt; Schubert, 1958
Today's post marks a rare two week classical streak and part two of this blog's Sviatoslav Richter series with a focus on the man himself. The music on this album, especially Liszt's pieces, are exceptionally good. If you're impressed by the sample, you won't be disappointed by his other compositions here. Richter was one of the great pianists of the 20th century and as was made clear by the critical response to the last album of Richter's that I posted, he had a penchant for redefining classics and recorded famous versions of countless songs. This record captures Richter live in Sofia on February 25th, 1958. Apparently the Doremi label released a CD of one of his concerts from about two weeks earlier in Budapest that features some of the same pieces as this album.
Like the last Richter album that I posted, this one is unmistakably live: instead of the recording quality being rough and the air conditioning possibly being on, an audience member sneezes a couple of times on side A. This Columbia disc is presumably one of the recordings that primed American audiences for Richter's 1960 visit to Carnegie Hall. One side is dedicated to Liszt and the other to Schubert. On Liszt's side are Harmonies de Soir from Etudes d'exécution transcendante, No 11 in D-flat Major, Feux Follets from d'exécution transcendante, No 5 in B-flat Major, Valse Oubliée No 1 in F-sharp Major, and Valse Oubliée No 2 in A-flat Major. On Schubert's side are Moment Musical in C Major, Op. 90, No 1, Impromptu in E-flat Major, Op 90, No 2, and Impromptu in A-flat Major, Op 90, No 4. I think Igor B. Maslowski's biography of Richter on the back of the record is insightful because it describes Richter as both a highly gifted artist and an eccentric character, two traits that often go together. Here it is it's complete form:
"Sviatoslav Teofilevitch Richter was born forty years ago at Zhitomir, in the Ukraine. German-Russian by descent ('with a dash of Tartar Blood,' says he with a smile,) he is a blond giant with a striking build and fantastic hands (he has an octave reach between his index finger and his little finger.)
His father, a composer and pianist, never intended to have "Slava" become a musician; his mother, however, thought otherwise, and so she sent her son to Odessa where he studied conducting. (Gifted with a prodigious musical memory, Richter is also able to read the most complex scores at sight.) But after three years the young artist realized that he was not cut out for a conductor's career. Then some friends suggested that he might become a pianist, and he went to Moscow to consult with Professor Heinrich Neuhaus. Professor Neuhaus took his as a pupil, and four years later Richter performed Prokofiev's Sixth Sonata. This was to mark the beginning of a close friendship between him and the composer, a friendship which lasted until the death of the latter.
Right from the start Richter was hailed as a prodigy and each concert has has given since then has been an event of the first order.
Richter is an unusual person. Some say he is difficult, others insist he is charming. The fact of the matter is that we must distinguish between Richter as an artist and Richter as a man. As an artist he is terribly strict, with himself and with others; as a man he is as pleasant, affable and obliging as can be. A very modest man, he is never quite satisfied with his concerts or recitals, and insists that there is always room for improvement. In his opinion he has only once played really well, and he loves to tell the following anecdote to his friends:
'It was at Gorki, I think': (yes, 'I think' are Richter's own words--his absent-mindedness is legendary, and he is at times unable to remember his address or telephone number, much less the cities he has played in,) 'and they had introduced me as 'Sviatoslav Richter, from the Moscow Conservatory.' As soon as I stepped out before the audience I felt that they were disappointed. But I played well, really well, I was quite satisfied with myself and got ready to do an encore. I never got a chance to, though, as the last piece on the program was greeted only by a polite applause, and I went off, somewhat surprised. I later learned that the audience expected to hear a Professor from the Conservatory--stooped, bearded, monocled, etc. When they saw a twenty-year-old on stage they concluded a priori that he couldn't give a good recital.'
Richter lives in Moscow with his wife, Nina Dorliak, the famous singer; he is her regular accompanist. He likes getting up late, loves works of art, and his favorite pastime is getting his musician friends together. He dislikes being disturbed by the telephone, and hates airplanes, which he takes only when he is absolutely forced to.
When he is asked why he never plays in the West, he replies: 'There are still so many Russian cities I've never played in.'"