Post by rk Post by Steve Emerson
Especially in Richter's case, it's unlikely that two different
performances of a 30-minute work would time out identically to the
fraction of a second.
Slightly OT, I have two cds of same performance of Richter's Brahms 2
with different timings. It appears, that first release was slightly
out of pitch (bad tape speed) and this was subsequently corrected.
Timings can be misleading sometimes.
Palexa Liszt is surely Richter at his best. Amazing Transcendental
Etudes can be found on Praga, from 1956 also (OOP, as usual).
You say "as usual". This is frustrating, of course, specially given
the stature of Sviatoslav Richter as a pianist. It shouldn't be so, of
Thinking of that the other day as I listened, jaw on the ground, to
Richter play Liszt, these questions occurred to me immediately:
1) What is it that enables a human being to do what Richter does here?
Genius seems too facile a word, doesn't capture the whole.
2) Is Richter, perhaps, the greatest keyboard artist of the 20th
Century? Bar none? And probably the greatest since Liszt himself?
Hearing SR play the piano is one thing. Seeing and hearing him in
person is quite another thing. Fortunately I had the privilege of
hearing him in recital about a dozen times, mostly in the 1960s and
1970s, but also in the 1980s and 1990s. In the 60s and 70s there was
an intensity in his playing that was palpable. It was irrelevant what
he played, Beethoven, Brahms, Prokofiev, Scriabin, whatever. This you
hear in the Palexa CD. To hear him in Tours, France, each year, was a
pilgrimage I was only too willing to make. In the 80s and 90s the
intensity was less strong, but the ferocious determination of this
artist to come to grips with the score at hand was unbelievable. That
jutting jaw, the torso leaning over the keyboard, those huge mits
grappling with the notes, remain vivid images in my mind.
Later, I would come much closer to him and be frustrated by his whims,
and his vagueness (that stack of poorly identified DAT tapes he dumped
into our lap as his
"authorized recordings" was hardly the best present I ever received at
Philips), and also by the perversity of some of his musical decisions:
What was he doing playing the Gershwin Concerto, for example? Why did
he turn SS 2's second movement into a gallumping canter? But the
integrity of this artist remained intact throughout.
Interestingly, I think he didn't have a "sound", in the way that
Cherkassky did, for example, or Arrau. With Richter the "sound" was
the sound of the composer's music rather than something he
superimposed over it.
Technically his playing was always awesome, even when there were wrong
notes, and there were almost always wrong notes, as with Horowitz and
Rubinstein, and all the greats, in fact. Of no account. He suffered
from memory difficulties. So, perhaps after the Bach WTC fiasco in
Paris, he started to use the score. So did Myra Hess, who always said
"Well, you know, I can read music!". Lovely rejoinder. I do feel that
this requirement altered some of the intensity of Richter's playing.
That's my theory.
I recall a Scriabin "Vers la flamme" which almost set the building in
Nijmegen (I think) on fire. Perhaps he thought he hadn't quite pulled
that trick off. So, he played it again.
Yes. I do believe that Richter would be my candidate for the title of
the Greatest Pianist of the 20th Century. At least that is my feeling
now. I may change my mind one day. But that Liszt CD sealed the deal,
Sorry, RK. This is not really a reply. Please forgive the length.