Classical Reissue Reviews

Sviatoslav Richter’s Boston Debut = BEETHOVEN: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus; Piano Concerto No. 1; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 – Sviatoslav Richter, p./ Boston Sym. Orch,/ Charles Munch – West Hill Radio Archives (2 CDs)

The piano titan Sviatoslav Richter’s 1960 debut in Boston with Charles Munch in music by Beethoven and Brahms has faithful restoration in its entirety by Kit Higginson.

Published on February 25, 2013

Sviatoslav Richter’s Boston Debut = BEETHOVEN: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus; Piano Concerto No. 1; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 – Sviatoslav Richter, p./ Boston Sym. Orch,/ Charles Munch – West Hill Radio Archives (2 CDs)

Sviatoslav Richter’s Boston Debut = BEETHOVEN: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43; Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major, Op. 15; BRAHMS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 – Sviatoslav Richter, piano/ Boston Symphony Orchestra/ Charles Munch – West Hill Radio Archives WHRA-6035 (2 CDs) 46:36; 51:22 [www.westhillradioarchives.com] ****:

Given the famous boast by a touring Emil Gilels, “Wait until you hear Richter!” it could only be a matter of time before the Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) experience befell the West: now we have the first release of the complete concert from the original broadcast tapes from the Boston Pension Benefit Fund, 1 November 1960. Sol Hurok negotiated the deal between the US State Department and the Soviet Ministry of Culture to make Richter’s tour possible. The performances themselves run the gamut of icy intellectual penetration to torrid emotional energy.  After a sturdy athletic Overture to Beethoven’s Prometheus ballet, the Boston orchestra thins out for the eminently classical C Major Concerto. Richter’s presence remains subdued, intent at the music at hand, without coarse or impetuous gestures. The clarity of the singing line proves foremost in the musicians’ minds, and the transitions flow elegantly. For the first movement cadenza, Richter plays a honed-down version of the longest of the Beethoven originals, and Munch enters smoothly to head to the coda.  Special poise saturates the Largo, played spaciously and with rapt concentration. We American observers are quickly learning that Richter makes music first, not virtuosity. The witty Rondo retains the aforementioned poise and grandeur of spirit, though some of us might wish for a bit more razzle-dazzle in the syncopated “jazzy” episodes. Certainly, at the concerto’s end, the unabashed cheering and foot-pounding attest to a new musical champion’s bright reception.

The Brahms B-flat Concerto – a work Richter and Erich Leinsdorf would record for RCA to win great acclaim – seems less consistently successful than the Beethoven. A real French horn flub occurs early in the development section, quite exposed, given the significance of the part to the continuity of melodic evolution. Munch had made a potent recording of the work with Arthur Rubinstein, so the muscular orchestral tissue asserts itself often, particularly in the D Minor Scherzo, the most convincing movement of this performance. Despite the icy, often aristocratic, outbursts from Richter, we sense of guarded diffidence that he wishes not to overwhelm the tracery he and Munch evolve, and the case in point is the somewhat lethargic Andante – Piu adagio, whose anonymous cellist (principal Samuel Mayes) helps cast a leisurely, nocturnal light upon the proceedings. For the genial finale, Richter maintains a light touch, even in the fastest and most canonic filigree, the demonic element kept under velvet wraps. Munch himself wants to exult more than Richter, urging a big sound from his strings and brass. Richter, however, tones down the interplay to cast a chamber music effect on the measured reverie.  We do not suffer any “Cold War” in all this, but a fleet, congenial interpretation of a work that might have elicited more sparks from such a “Promethean” legend as Richter had already become. The Boston audience, as well as commentator Martin Bookspan, has embraced the artist and the collaboration with unbridled affection.

Recommended for historical connoisseurs, especially in tandem with the DOREMI issues of the Carnegie Hall recitals.

—Gary Lemco




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