courtesy of Naxos of America
A little over two weeks ago, the Profil label released its latest collection of performances by Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Readers may recall that Sviatoslav Richter Plays Schubert – Live in Moscow was released this past July with Sviatoslav Richter Plays Beethoven coming out the following September. The title of the new album is Sviatoslav Richter Plays Schumann & Brahms. Like the Beethoven collection, this consists of twelve CDs, eight for the music of Robert Schumann and the remaining four devoted (almost entirely) to Johannes Brahms. The recordings were made between 1948 and 1962. Seven of the sessions took place in a studio, and all of the rest are concert recordings.
While these recordings were made in the same time frame as those of the two previous releases, clearly a time when Richter was at the top of his game, there is a sense that his commitment to both Schumann and Brahms is not as intense as that for both Beethoven and Schubert. For example, the November 16, 1958 recording, made at a Kiev recital, of the Opus 17 fantasia in C major falls so far short of the usual focus and precision that one expects of Richter than one has to wonder whether or not he had some problem (such as illness) at the time. Fortunately, the studio recording made in August of 1961 gives a much more precise account of the same music. However, the recording sessions took place of the course of five days (the first five days of the month), suggesting that this account was “synthesized,” rather than the product of in-the-moment interpretation.
Then there is the rather idiosyncratic approach to the concert performance of the Opus 13 Symphonic Studies, which alternates variations on a theme with keyboard études. This was recorded at a concert in Prague on December 15, 1956. There is an unexplained leap from Variation 6 to Variation 9; but (as compensation) the five variations that were only published posthumously are inserted between Variation 4 and Variation 5. In addition, Richter is clearly not at the top of his game in the rather raucous Finale that Schumann composed for this piece.
In a similar vein the recordings of both the Opus 12 Fantasiestücke (fantasy pieces) and the Opus 21 Novelletten are excerpted. On the other hand there are two generous (and satisfying) accounts of the Opus 82 Waldszenen (forest scenes). There are also two recordings of the Opus 54 concerto in A minor, one with the Moscow Radio Symphony Orchestra and the other with the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra. Then there is an entire CD of Schumann songs recorded with soprano Nina Dorliak. These include the entire Opus 48 Dichterliebe (poet’s love) cycle, which one usually associates with a male voice. (One also expects it to be sung in German, but all of the tracks on this CD are sung in Russian.)
On the last four CDs there is relatively little solo work, Brahms’ Opus 2 sonata in F-sharp minor, three of the pieces in the Opus 118 collection, and all four of the pieces in the Opus 119 collection. Far more interesting are the recordings of the two cello sonatas with Mstislav Rostropovich and a convincing account of the Opus 34 piano quintet in F minor with the Borodin Quartet. It is also interesting that both recordings of the Opus 83 (second) piano concerto were both made by American orchestras visiting Moscow, the Boston Symphony Orchestra led by Charles Munch and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra led by Erich Leinsdorf.
Finally, there is a “wild card” at the end of the collection. This is Max Reger’s Opus 64 piano quintet in C minor, again recorded with the Borodin Quartet. Having never heard this piece in concert, I was quickly drawn into it. This is music that definitely deserves for attention. Whether that attention goes as far as acquiring this twelve-CD collection is left for the consumer to decide!