SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No.1; Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique” – Sviatoslav Richter, p./ Leningrad Philharmonic/ Yevgeny Mravinsky – Praga Digitals

More Richter reissued on SACD, with Mravinsky at the helm producing fireworks and splendid drama.

Published on September 15, 2013

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No.1; Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique” – Sviatoslav Richter, p./ Leningrad Philharmonic/ Yevgeny Mravinsky – Praga Digitals

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No.1; Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique” – Sviatoslav Richter, p./ Leningrad Philharmonic/ Yevgeny Mravinsky – Praga Digitals stereo-only SACD PRD/DSD 350 069, 78:37 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] (3/12/13) ****:

Sviatoslav Richter made several recordings of this most flamboyant of piano concertos. One was a 1962 odd-ball version was with Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Symphony on an off-day. There are moments of frisson, but the overall effect is one of two titans struggling to get their personal points made without much regard for the other. The DGG sound is excellent.

It is quite another matter with Yevgeny Mravinski on the podium. The two stars see eye to eye with a resulting emotional, exciting, edge-of-your-seat performance that leaves nothing to be desired.  With Russian music, these two musicians are at the top, despite the hundreds of other recorded performances that have been made. This concerto has challenged every star pianist worth his or her salt. Richter was a rarefied pianist who simply operated on another plane than most mortals.

Mravinski was one of the great conductors of the 20th century and possessed of an Olympian view of the music he conducted. He made several outstanding recordings of the Pathétique Symphony. For DGG Mravinski and the Leningrad Philharmonic made two magnificent studio recordings of the symphony, one in mono in 1956 in Vienna and a later one in stereo in 1960 in London. These are benchmark performances. The recording at hand belongs in the same league as those DGG recordings. Mravinski’s understanding of the drama and pathos in the music is second to none.

This is another in the Praga Digitals reissues, this time from Le Chant du Monde (at least for the piano concerto). On the disc and on the back of the jewel box is emblazoned “MONO AND STEREO BI-CHANNEL.” This means while there is no surround layer on these early recordings, one of them is stereo and the other mono (probably the symphony since it dates from earlier).

The booklet states that one of these was recorded July 24, 1958 in Leningrad (I would guess the piano concerto) and the other in Vienna in June 1956, (the symphony). In Europe, almost no radio stations and few commercial record companies were recording in stereo at that time.

I mention these points because the sound, while remarkable for its age, does not really sound like stereo. In the concerto the piano is dead center with the orchestra spread out diffusely behind it. In the symphony the treble seems to be in the left and center channels and the bass in the right. Overall, the sound is very good –   mono, stereo, bi-channel or whatever with the added clarity of SACD. Regardless, it’s the performances which are the major interest here.

Incidentally, my determination of the recordings and their dates, aside from the booklet, is from various Internet discographies of the artists. This is a limited edition, so buy while you can if you have any interest in the music and/or these two preeminent musicians.

—Zan Furtwangler




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