Classical Reissue Reviews

Richter plays LISZT = Liebestraume Nos. 2 & 3; Valses Oubliees Nos. 1-3; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Melodies; Piano Concerto No. 2; Funerailles – Sviatoslav Richter, p./Hungarian State Orch./Janos Ferencsik – PID

WHRA restores colossal Liszt from the legendary Sviatoslav Richter, whose own many-sided personality and musical vitality prove a perfect fit this composer.

Published on October 19, 2012

Richter plays LISZT = Liebestraume Nos. 2 & 3; Valses Oubliees Nos. 1-3; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Melodies; Piano Concerto No. 2; Funerailles – Sviatoslav Richter, p./Hungarian State Orch./Janos Ferencsik – PID

Richter plays LISZT = Liebestraume No. 2; Liebestraume No. 3; Valses Oubliees Nos. 1-3; Mephisto Waltz No. 1; Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Melodies; Piano Concerto No. 2 in A Major; Funerailles – Sviatoslav Richter, p./Hungarian State Orch./Janos Ferencsik – PID WHRA-6043, 79:47 [avail. by direct mail from www.westhillradioarchives.com/] ****:

Culled from three distinct appearances by piano titan Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) in Moscow and Budapest from 1958 and 1961, we have, via the scrupulous work of audio restoration engineer Kit Higginson, some magnificent Liszt renditions by the master of granite accuracy. Always passionate about music – and increasingly less concerned with either celebrity or public image -  Richter brought to Liszt the technical flamboyance and ecstatic extremism, but no less a fanatical regard for the composer’s intentions and utter devotion to his spirit. No “integralist,” as he put it, Richter managed to accumulate a colossal number of pieces into his repertory, known and relatively obscure, from every facet of the Master’s eclectic range and style.

Along with the ubiquitous Liebestraume in A-flat Major, Richter opens (5 February 1958)  in Moscow with the less frequent No. 2, each of which reveals a velvet tone and thorough security in the Liszt style, both rhetorical and technical. Richter bestows upon us, beyond the well-familiar Valse oubliee No. 1, the numbers two and three, in which the choppy A-flat gains a steely, sparkling momentum as it proceeds. The No. 3 begins with dreamy chords, then a series of pearly, staccato runs that Ravel would envy. It soon becomes a wrist etude in syncopes and graduated dynamics, marvelously executed. The 5 February 1958 group ends, feverishly enough, with a raw, inflamed rendition of the Mephisto Waltz No. 1, volatile, frenetic, almost out of control but managing to retain the inflamed shape of a tragic and erotic seduction.

Two collaborations with Hungarian conductor Janos Ferencsik (1907-1984) ensue, each taped from a concert 27 September 1961 in Budapest. The Hungarian Fantasia projects the expected series of variegated moods and folk styles, concluding with a fearsome friss 

section after having imitated the cembalom and his own solo orchestra. The balance between “studied” tempos and impulsive, explosive improvisational episodes remains quite extraordinary, and few can match Richter’s sheer firepower in parallel octaves.   Ferencsik, too, contributes a festive, scintillating orchestral part, a splendid carnival to end the Fantasia. The labyrinthine Concerto in A Major exudes a broad poetic license, melancholy and rhetorical, flavored by its synergy with Weber’s Konzerstueck and the entire Liszt bravura ethos. The fierce attacks and their opposing moments of reclusive intimacy bespeak the polar forces in Liszt and Richter himself, the eternal conflict in William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Richter concludes (11 February 1958, Budapest) with the 1850 Funerailles of Liszt, conceived under the spell of poetry of Lamartine and the failed War of Hungarian Independence, which resulted in the death of Liszt’s friend Count Lajos Batthyeany; but Chopin, too, died just eleven days after the death of the Count. The piece may well celebrate the idea of heroism more than any one individual, although Liszt borrows heavily from the rotating left-hand octaves in Chopin’s famous A-flat Major Polonaise, Op. 53.  Tragic, eerie, tolling bells open Richter’s realization of the piece, which gains in grandeur and colossal nobility as it proceeds, a minor-major study in heroic facets and the longevity of heart-felt grief. Richter himself spoke of his “mediocre piano” which served as his instrument in this performance, but he claimed the rendition to be “exceptionally successful.” Who are we to disagree? [So it's not just jazz pianists who are often forced to perform on lousy pianos...Ed.]

—Gary Lemco




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