Beethoven; Schubert; Schumann Piano Works

Richter in visionary vein in London and adamantine but amiable in Moscow

Author: 
Bryce Morrison

Beethoven; Schubert; Schumann Piano Works

  • Sonata for Piano No. 9
  • Sonata for Piano No. 10
  • Fantasy, 'Wandererfantasie'
  • Theme and Variations on the name 'Abegg'
  • Faschingsschwank aus Wien
  • (27) Etudes, C sharp minor, Op. 10/4
  • (33) Variations in C on a Waltz by Diabelli, 'Diabelli Variations'
  • Sonata for Keyboard and Violin No. 27

BBC Legends’ invaluable issue of a recital given at the Royal Festival Hall in 1963 offers still further evidence of Richter’s ever-astonishing, complex and mercurial character. His opening of Beethoven’s Op 14 No 1 Sonata is limpid, dextrous and serene and his replacement of the Allegretto with an andante of his own inclination is one of those striking innovations which, together with his near-static tempi in several Schubert sonatas, emerged as central to his originality, audacity and conviction.

Elsewhere, his winged presto flights could make him accident-prone (the awkward slither at 4'33" in the cruelly unpianistic octave interplay of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy), yet what classic serenity he finds in the central Adagio, living proof that he was always adept at finding the still centre at the heart of the surrounding teeming hyper-activity. His sense, too, of Schubert’s volatility could hardly be more marked with pianissimo decorations of a scarcely credible lightness and rapidity and a frenzied attack on the following storms.

Schumann has always been central to the great Russian pianists, and in the ‘Abegg’ Variations Richter endows even the innocent theme with a speculative, near visionary quality. In Schumann’s ‘other’ Carnaval, Faschingsschwank aus Wien, he is dazzlingly alert to a maelstrom of ideas that rush in a romantic, pell-mell profusion from the composer’s pen. Yet the Romance has all of that other-wordly, communing quality that could make Richter such a touching as well as awe-inspiring figure, and if tempi in the finale and in Chopin’s Op 10 No 4 nearly telescope the music’s character out of existence they also suggest a pianist of super-human powers.

Richter’s Beethoven and Mozart on Regis, were given live in Moscow’s Pushkin Fine Arts Museum in 1982 and ’88 respectively. The Diabelli is less enthralling than his 1986 Amsterdam account, with a final fugue hammered out as if by Vulcan himself and with emotion or more decorative notions of poetry kept formidably at arm’s length (never more so that in the final pages). Throughout, nothing is allowed to detract from Richter’s adamantine purpose, though his partnership with Kagan in Mozart shows him a more amiable light.

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