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DVD: Watching Richter

available at Amazon
Sviatoslav Richter, Mozart Sonatas / Chopin Etudes

(released June 24, 2008)
Medici Arts Classic Archive EDV 1333 3085208

Online scores:
K. 282 | K. 545 | K. 310
Chopin First Editions
Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter did not like the idea of his concerts being filmed or televised. He agreed to continue the recital preserved on this new DVD (at the Barbican Centre in London in 1989), after learning shortly before curtain that it would be recorded, only if he would not be able to see the cameras. At this point late in his career, trying to absent himself from the listener's experience, he had taken to playing with no light but a single bulb gooseneck lamp, in spite of the fact that he also insisted on playing from a score. You cannot see much, but there are plenty of closeups of Richter's hands at work and the side of his face, intensely concentrating. Although teachers pushed me to listen to Richter's recordings, especially the Beethoven and Schubert sonatas (of course), I never had the chance to see him play live, so this DVD offers a welcome opportunity.

This concert was given only a few years before Richter was forced to stop playing in public, but the precision and suppleness of touch are remarkable. In the last decade or so of his career, he learned new scores voraciously, including many of the Mozart sonatas. For this recital he played three of them, KK. 282, 545, and 310, with all of the repeats. Although there is lace-like finesse in the filigree passages, there is nothing precious about the approach. There are a few finger slips here and there, nothing that takes away from the beauty and considered judgment of the playing. Sometimes, he makes you wonder about what Mozart meant by some markings, like the forte vs. piano contrasts in the first movement of K. 282, which Richter ignores (although he observes those in the minuets). For the last week or so, I have been practicing the A minor sonata, K. 310, which has become the latest obsession of Master Ionarts. When I tire of playing the first movement, which is what he asks to hear over and over, he can watch Richter.

The rest of the recital was given to a set of Chopin etudes, selected from opp. 10 and 25. Two things are striking about his playing here and in the Mozart: how rhythmically driven it is and the incredible economy of motion. The Chopin is naturally more free, with impetuous rubato, and rarely have they struck my ear more as pieces of music than as insidious technical challenges (although there are flaws here and there, even for Richter). Bonus tracks include earlier versions of op. 10, nos. 4 and 12, from a BBC broadcast in 1969 (both earlier recordings are significantly shorter and faster), as well as Rachmaninoff's Etude-Tableau, op. 39, no. 3, in F# minor.


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