Monday, September 9, 2013

Sviatoslav Richter Plays Miaskovksy, Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, Bartók, Webern...

Nikolai Miaskovsky remains one of the more enigmatic figures in contemporary music. Born in Novogeorgievsky, Russia, on April 1881, the future musician was forced by his father, a career offiecer in the army, to prepare for a military career. Even when the family moved to St. Petersburg, with his renowned conservatory, Miaskovsky was able to study music only on a part-time basis. It was while he was posted in Moscow from 1902 to 1904 that he took on a more serious course of study under no less a figure than Reinhold Glière. Miaskovsky then returned to St. Petersburg, where he studied with such noted musicians as Ivan Kryzhanovsky, Anatol Liadov, and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Although he abandonned the military for music as of 1907, Miaskovsky, who had already produced a substantial body of compositions, was called back into active service in 1914. When he was finally demobilized in 1921, he became a professor of composition at the Moscow Conservatory, where he remained until his death on 9 August 1950...As a composer Miaskovsky acquired note as one of the most prolific creators of symphonies - he ended up with twenty-seven - since Mozart and Haydn. But whether in the symphonies, his concertos, or his various chamber works, the composer's style remains hard to pin down. Although by his own admission he renounced, after the Fifth Symphony, a straon of pessimism that dominated his early works, his best music remains, throughout his career, infused by a kind of morose obsessiveness, with gloomy themes and motivic fragments continually trying to assert themselves in the midst of harmonies that often extend beyond chromaticism into vaguely non-tonal domains. Indeed, the somber tone of certain formalist campaign waged by Andrei Zhdanov, Stalin's culutral executioner, in 1948...
Royal S. Brown, from the booklet 

Sviatoslav Richter
Miaskovksy, Shostakovitch


Nikolai Myaskovsky

1 Piano Sonata n° 3 in C minor  13:21

Dmitri Shostakovitch

Preludes & Fugues, Op. 87
2 N° 19 in E Flat Major  6:50
3 N° 21 in B Flat Major  4:16
4 N° 22 in G Minor  6:49

Serguei Prokofiev

Sonate pour piano n° 6 in A major, Op. 82
5 I. Andante dolce  15:06
6 II. Andante - Vivace  14:34

Sviatoslav Richter - p

Recorded live at the Grange de Meslay, during the "Fêtes Musicales de Touraine" ; 1973


From Bach to Webern and Bartok to Weber, the range and magnitude of Richter's repertoire was simply awesome. And he didn't just nibble at trifles or even at the odd-substantial piece from such and such composer, as Horowitz: he really ploughed deep. Witness the 14 Haydn sonatas of which he has left us recordings, the vast array of Bach, the many Beethoven and Schubert sonatas, the warhorses as well as the rarities of Schumann, etc. And he also tackled lots of rarer stuff, too, like the Haendel Suites (who else plays them on the piano?), chamber music of Franck, Miaskovsky's 3rd piano sonata, Rimsky's piano concerto, and so on. 20th century music was central to his repertoire, with lots of Prokoviev, Shostakovitch, Scriabin but also forays into Bartok, Berg, Britten, Debussy, Gershwin, Hindemith, Poulenc, Ravel, Strauss, Stravinsky, Szymanovsky (the order is alphabetical). The gaps were also glaring, with no recordings of any Scarlatti sonata, for instance, nor of the Chopin or Rachmaninoff sonatas. And one could do a list of the pieces he inexplicably did not approach - and rue their absence from his discography (Bach's Goldberg variations or Berg's piano sonata come to mind).
This double CD box, part of the Richter series published by Decca in the early 90s (other releases included Haydn, Schumann and Brahms) gives us the rare opportunity to hear a concert given in Vienna in February 1989, with 20th century pieces that are far from being well-trodden territory - and not only by Richter. For most of them this is also Richter's only recording, according to Paul Geffen's invaluable discography : Bartok's three powerful and motoric Burlesques, Webern's terse Variations op 27, Hindemith's hammering Suite op. 26, Stravinsky's pounding Piano-Rag Music, and the two out of three movements from Szymanowski's sensuous Metopes op. 29 (to make one lament that he didn't record the piece complete). On the other hand there are five other Richter recordings of Prokofiev's wry second sonata (four of them dating from the 1964-65 season and the last, on Live Classics, from 1994), and Doremi issued another recording of Shostakovitch's Preludes and fugues op. 87/19 & 20 (with 21 & 22 to boot), deriving from a concert given in Moscow in 1974, while Pyramid released # 19 (with again 21 & 22) from a concert given near Tours, France, in 1973.
I haven't done systematic comparisons, and I wouldn't stake my head that these interpretations are the best ever of the pieces. By the time of this recording Richter had evolved from the brash & impetuous virtuoso towards a more brooding and massive style of interpretation, and the Webern, for instance, does seem somewhat heavy-footed. In Stravinsky's Piano-Rag Music, Richter substitutes massive power to dynamism. It is quite impressive, but I doubt that anybody without a good knowledge of the composition will be able to hear the music behind the pounding notes. As for the Prokofiev, just compare the 7:27 (introductory claps deducted) it takes Richter to get through the first movement in 1989, to the 6:50 it took him in Prag, in February 1965 (Chant du Monde Praga 1992, mono sound, slightly distant but well defined: Prokofiev : Sonates pour piano Nos. 2, 6, 9 or Prokofiev : Piano Sonatas Op.14, 82, 103). Still, there is also something that speaks in favor of the deliberate massiveness of the later approach. Richter in his seventies, himself physically massive and sturdy in appearance like some gentle giant, made a Yamaha Grand seem like Schroeder's toy piano, and could produce awesome power. The younger Richter doesn't exclude the older one: they complement each other, really.
So, this is an indispensable addition to the Richterite's collection. But with a sound that is a bit distant and with ill-focused left-hand, and timings that are rather short (46:16 and 50:27), I certainly wouldn't say that this box is worth the unreasonable prices asked for it by some sellers. Shame on Decca for letting it lapse out of availability, enabling some internet vultures to try and take advantage.

Source :

Sviatoslav Richter
Prokofiev, Stravinsky
Shostakovitch, Webern
Bartók, Szymanovsky


Cd. 1

Serguei Prokofiev

Piano Sonata n° 2 in D minor, Op. 14
1 I. Allegro ma non troppo  8:03
2 II. Scherzo - Allegro ma non troppo  2:03
3 III. Andante -  5:37
4 IV. Vivace  5:36

Igor Stravinsky

5 Piano-Rag-Music  4:11

Dmitri Shostakovitch

Preludes & Fugues
6 N° 19 in E-flat major, Op. 87  7:11
7 N° 20 in C minor, Op. 87  13:19


Cd. 2

Anton Webern

1 Variations Op. 27  10:13
I. Sehr mässig
II. Sehr Schnell
III. Ruhig Fliessend

Béla Bartók

3 Burlesques
2 I. Querelle  2:24
3 II. Un peu gris...  2:04
4 III. Molto vivo capriccioso  3:12

Karol Szymanovsky

From Métopes, Op. 29
5 L'Ile des Sirènes  5:05
6 Calypso  5:57

Paul Hindemith

Suite "1922', Op. 26
7 I. March  1:32
8 II. Shimmy  3:18
9 III. Nachtstück  6:49
10 IV. Boston  6:21
11 V. Ragtime  3:03

Sviatoslav Richter - p

Recorded at the Yamaha Center, Vienna ; February 1989


Melanchthon said...

fcapeau said...

Splendid, Mel ! Many thanks.