Wednesday, March 14, 2018

More of the Richter Legacy from Praga

Efforts to maintain a thorough “digital documentation” of the performances by pianist Sviatoslav Richter will continue this Friday when Praga Digitals will release a two-CD album of that pianist’s performances of music by Franz Schubert. The collection consists primarily of five sonatas that cover the period between August of 1817 and September of 1828, that last being the single month during which Schubert composed his last three sonatas, all as wildly innovative as they were monumental in temporal scale. Each of these five sonatas was performed at a different place on a different date. Specifics are as follows:
  1. D. 575 in B major, New York (Carnegie Hall), April 15, 1965
  2. D. 625 in F minor, Munich (Herkulessaal), July 23, 1978
  3. D. 784 in A minor, Tokyo, February 6, 1979
  4. D. 894 in G major, Moscow, May 5, 1978
  5. D. 958 in C minor, Salzburg, August 1972
In addition, there is a recording of the C minor Allegretto movement (D. 915) made at the Teatro Comunale in Florence on October 23, 1962. As usual, is currently processing pre-orders for this release.

Those who followed my writing last year know that a good deal of my attention went into recordings of Richter released by a generous number of different sources. They would be justified in asking if, after all that effort, I had had enough, particularly given the amount of time I had put into the ten-CD album released by Profil that consisted entirely of performances of Schubert. Obviously, I have not had enough; and, where Schubert is concerned, all of the performances on this new Praga release are later than those in the Profil collection. Furthermore, only two of the works on this new album could be found in the Profil collection, the D. 784 and D. 958 sonatas. In other words, no matter how you choose to cut it, this new recording consists entirely of performances I had not yet encountered.

Mind you, whenever I am confronted with moderate or large number of selections, it does not take me long to home in on favorites. In this particular case I would have to say that the top of my list is firmly occupied by D. 894. This is because this was my first serious acquaintance with one of Schubert’s piano sonatas, established through a 1966 RCA Victor recording of Peter Serkin, which seems to be available on Amazon only through third-party vendors and only in vinyl form. By 1966 I had developed an enthusiastic taste for the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, but I was not prepared for a piano sonata whose first movement required about half an hour to state and develop its thematic material!

By the time I was living in Santa Barbara in the early Eighties, I had a piano teacher who not only encouraged me to take on this sonata but also challenged me memorize the exposition portion of that opening movement. As a result I now tend to go after any available opportunity to listen to how any pianist approaches this sonata. It has been quite a wild ride, particularly since I began to document my listening experiences back in 2009; but, for all of those opportunities that have presented themselves to me, I have yet to tire of encountering both performances and recordings of D. 894.

On the other hand D. 625 will probably strike most listeners are the greatest curiosity in this new collection. This sonata is listed as incomplete in Otto Erich Deutch’s catalog; and, as might be expected, there is a Wikipedia page that provides a reasonably good account of what is there and what is missing. Most of the attention there is given to the opening Allegro movement, which cites a couple of recent efforts to create a completed version. However, when András Schiff recorded the sonata, he decided to play only what Schubert wrote, which makes for a noticeably abrupt break in the flow of the music. Richter did the same at his Munich recital; and, for all I know, Schiff was following Richter’s lead.

Personally, while I cannot get enough of the late works, I enjoy the fact that Richter chose to bring several of the earlier Schubert sonatas to light. I am thus pleased that, for this side of the catalog, there is no serious overlap between the Profil collection and this new Praga release. In other words content counts for just as much as quality, and the serious listener will find much to gain from his/her encounter with this new Praga Digitals recording.

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