Prokofiev Piano Sonata No 7; Schubert Piano Sonata No 19
Here is one of those legendary concerts that will have pianophiles slavering at the mouth: a great artist at the height of his powers in a programme that has, as far as I know, not been available before and with the Szymanowski new to his commercial discography (but, with the annual plethora of posthumous Richter releases, doubtless someone will correct me).
The atmosphere of the occasion is well captured on this slightly hissy recording, the packed house, pinned to their seats by the imperious opening bars of the Schubert, immediately aware that this is likely to be a memorable evening. If Imogen Cooper (Avie, 1/10) beguilingly emphasised Schubert the lyricist in this work, Richter offers the dramatist of barely containable emotions. The tarantella finale, taken faster than allegro, is a thrilling pianistic tour de force. The 15 short Bartók pieces are woven into a seamless whole, the finale “imbued with a primitive quality as though Richter has tapped into the energy of a long-buried spring of primordial music” (Chris de Souza). This same extraordinary aggression Richter unleashes in the two Szymanowski pieces is devastating, though the music itself does not make for easy listening. In the Prokofiev, premiered by Richter himself in 1943, all the anger and despair of the composer is realised with playing of an uninhibited, raw emotion that has rarely been so vividly caught on disc.
The same programme with the same three encores (omitted here – two by Prokofiev, one by Debussy) was filmed in Osaka in September 1970, though only the Prokofiev was broadcast. Perhaps the complete concert will surface on DVD one day.