12 February 2010

An unexpected enrichment of Sviatoslav Richter's discography

Sviatoslav Richter is a pianist I really adore, and yet he is also a pianist whose art many  may find it difficult to characterise.

I remember very fondly what Artur Rubinstein commented after hearing Richter for the first time, "It really wasn't anything out of the ordinary. Then at some point I noticed my eyes growing moist: tears began rolling down my cheeks..."

I reckon that it is an inevitable paradox on Richter. While his art embraces many strong pianistic attributes, it is precisely the lack of easy characterisation into a certain category that can best summarise his art. For example, some pianists can be characterised or labelled as keyboard acrobats, some as virtuosos, some as poets, or some as iconoclasts. But when you think about it, Richter is none of these but at the time he is all of these. It appears that he can transcend all these descriptions to a higher level where truths are palpably near, or to a deeper level where the heart is touched, be it tenderly or painfully. 

Writing something on the vast discography of Sviatoslav Richter is a daunting task, to say the least of it. The number of Richter's concert appearances is enormous: about 70 per annum from 1960 till 1989. That means, if each concert has been recorded, we can expect to run into more than 2000 concert recordings! This hasn't included his concerts before he began to perform in the West. (P.S. According to Bruno Mosaingeon's chronology, Richter gave 3590 concerts between his first and last recitals.)

Now more than a dozen years after Richter's passing away, when we admirers begin to resign ourselves to the possibility that the best part of his recorded legacy must have already all surfaced, given the numerous CDs issued in the past couples of decades, we are informed of yet another box-set containing many hitherto unissued live recordings. A 14-CD set called "Richter in Hungary" issued officially by the Hungarian Radio Station will soon grace our CD players.

Just before the Chinese New Year, this box-set at last reached my hands. Pictures below:

Apart from the official sources and the time span of 39 years (from 1954 to 1993), mention has to be made that this set includes at this moment the oldest published Richter recording of Prokofiev Sonata No. 8 (on 26 March 1954), and most of the contents have never been issued on CD. I've quickly sampled those pieces previously issued by other companies and compared the sound, and the result shows the new box-set a clear winner.

Previously issued material includes:

1) CD3 tr 01-05 in "Sviatoslav Richter in Budapest" (WHRA-6023): Although this CD sounds OK, the new issue from Hungarian Radio sources has better ambience, body and clarity.

2) CD3 tr 06 in Doremi Vol. 15 (DHR-7940/1).

3) CD3 tr 07-13 in Doremi Vol. 18 (DHR-7959).

4) CD7 tr 01-02 in Doremi Vol. 17 (DHR-7954).

5) CD7 tr 06-18 in Pyramid 13507: The Pyramid disc has a warmer sound and an apparently richer bass but the new issue is more balanced over the full range, with better ambience and crispness in the treble and mid-range, and makes the music sound more urgent. The Pyramid filters out the audience noise and by doing this it also cuts out the liveliness of the music.

6) CD10 tr 01-10 in Doremi Vol. 6 (DHR-7766): Again the new set gives you the impression that the thin veil covering the sound in the Doremi disc has been removed. It sounds fresher and more immediate.

One minor error in the track listing occurs in CD10 track 12 where it is wrongly attributed to Chopin Waltz in G-flat major, op. 70/1, which in fact should be Waltz in D flat major, op. 70/3. I was filled with expectations when I read the track listing because if the former is correct, it would have been a brand new addition to Richter's repertoire. Well, life is  usually adamant in not giving out surprises when you are most desperate for them. 

Here are the pictures of the CDs mentioned above:




The Debussy Preludes Book II on Pyramid needs to be compared with that in the new set. Trovar.com listed it as a 1967 Budapest performance, but the CD listed it as a 1968 Prague performance. However according to the programmes record, the two Chopin pieces on the Pyramid CD were not performed in Prague in August 1968 but in Budapest in 1967, although both recitals featured the same Debussy Preludes.  Maybe comparing with the CD in the new set will solve this query.


Both sonically and artistically this set is an excellent enrichment of the Richter discography.  Richter fans will need no introduction to it. Those who would like to experience the lure of Richter can certainly derive much pleasure from listening to this awesome set. I'm sure it is an invaluable addition to the Richter discography, however overcrowded it's already been. 

With the release of this set, it will be harder to get away from Richter for a fairly long time. But then, who really wants to?


  1. Doremi vol. 6 has Schubert's D.958 on tracks 1-4. This is NOT duplicated in this newer set.