SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

Sviatoslav Richter plays the Piano Concertos of GRIEG & DVORAK – Kondrashin & Smetacek – Praga Digitals

Russian piano titan Richter (1915-1997) performs two concerto staples from his repertory in glorious reconstituted sound from Praga.

Published on July 10, 2012

Sviatoslav Richter plays the Piano Concertos of GRIEG & DVORAK – Kondrashin & Smetacek – Praga Digitals

Sviatoslav Richter = GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16; DVORAK: Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33 – Sviatoslav Richter, piano/ Moscow State Symphony Orchestra/ Kirill Kondrashin/ Prague Symphony Orchestra/ Vaclav Smetacek (Dvorak) – Praga Digitals stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 350 058, 65:35 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi ] ****:

The granite keyboard style of Sviatoslav Richter (no matter how one spells his first name) endures through any number of incarnations, especially in the concertos he favored. The two live stereo recordings reproduced here include his magisterial 1872 Grieg Piano Concerto with an equally ardent Kirill Kondrashin from Moscow (23 March 1964) and a generously voluptuous Dvorak Concerto from The Prague Spring Festival (2 June 1966) with Smetacek, in an edition that artfully expands the Vilem Kurz abridged edition with selective repetitions and ornamental filigree.  Karel Soukenik’s remastering of the original Praga stereo recordings into DSD two-channel reproduction makes Richter’s massive sound even more monumental, if possible. [There are also stereo recordings of the works on DGG & EMI. Note our review of an EMI SACD of a later recording of both concertos plus the Schumann Concerto (I didn't have both in hand simultaneously to do a comparison)...Ed.]

SvWith Richter’s playing against con sordino strings and occasional touches from bassoon and French horn, the music attains that Chinese brush-painting effect, the illusion of material spirituality fashioned out of the void. Here, Grieg has the piano allude to the hardanger fiddle of his Norwegian heritage, the appoggiaturas and open fifths seamless rendered by Richter.  Richter’s sparkling realization of the last movement glistens as much as it thunders, and the Moscow State Symphony brass and wind sections sing luxuriously.

The Grieg Concerto has a particularly etched quality, produced by Richter’s firm landings and articulation of the various Norwegian influences, the halling and the springar, and his complete command of the demanding coordination between him and Kondrashin. The second movement Adagio in D-flat Major reveals the intimate tenderness with which Richter’s otherwise stentorian approach could achieve; we inherit the same caresses in the D Major Andante sostenuto in the Dvorak Concerto. The Dvorak Concerto, which Richter recorded commercially with Carlos Kleiber, here has the orchestral leadership of Vaclav Smetacek (1906-1986), founder of the Prague Wind Quintet and a member of the Czech Philharmonic under Vaclav Talich. Despite the disparagement of the 1876 Concerto in G Minor by those who characterize it as “the concerto for two right hands,” Richter and a select group of keyboard acolytes believe in the value of this mellifluous work, especially its four-note motif that provides the cell for the fabulous nocturne that forms the second movement. The last movement, Allegro con fuoco, otherwise so much like its spiritual model, the Brahms D Minor Concerto, sheds much of its Germanic cast and emotional heaviness to adopt Bohemian rhythms and melodic fantasy to its rondo-sonata structure.

—Gary Lemco




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