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Leslie Gerber
Leslie Gerber, September 2009

Richter set the BBC crew a daunting task. Informed shortly before the concert that it was to be filmed, he insisted that no cameras could be visible to him and that the only lighting during his playing was a 40 watt bulb aimed at the music. Technically, the results are a triumph. There may be a lot of black around the edges, but Richter’s hands and face are seen clearly throughout. After the first movement of K. 282, with the camera unfortunately pointed right at the light bulb, there are no distractions from the playing and the music. The sound recording is quite good and, in the Chopin, hints better than most at Richter’s real dynamic and tonal ranges as I remember them from concerts.

Neither of these composers was strongly identified with Richter, but he played plenty of music by both and often very well. While the Mozart Sonatas are uninformed by 20th century musicology—Russia was quite backward musicologically when Richter was a student—he plays the music without inflated romanticism and with a modest range of dynamics. As was his custom, he takes every marked repeat. One could even wish for more passion and dynamic contrast in the opening movement of K. 310, but otherwise this is thoroughly satisfactory.

Richter played this particular selection of Chopin Etudes numerous times, and we have a live performance of them from Japan on CD. At 74, he still had plenty of technique to give us thrilling, colorful versions of these pieces. There’s no use regretting that he played only these Etudes; Richter always played only what he identified with.

Three bonus items are misleadingly labeled only, “Broadcast by BBC on 28 October 1969.” They were actually filmed in the 1950s and are included in the Soviet documentary Young Richter on Soviet TV. Richter plays Rachmaninov’s Etude-Tableau in F Sharp Minor, Op. 39, No. 3 in front of an audience and Chopin’s Etudes Op. 10 Nos. 4 and 12 in a home setting. The playing here is stupendous. Op. 10 No. 4 is rattled off at an insanely fast tempo which makes it more a party stunt than good Chopin, but it’s as impressive a party stunt as you could imagine.

Alas, Medici Arts’ disc formatting is unhelpful. Except in “Play All,” every chapter stops at its end instead of continuing on to the next. If you want to see K. 310 or a group of Chopin Etudes together, you have to start at the beginning and skip forward a chapter at a time to the beginning of what you want, and even then there are noticeable gaps between the chapters. With so little Richter video on the market–apparently this is the first complete recital of his released on video outside Japan—this is a valuable issue, but it really should be redone.

American Record Guide, December 2008

This allows us to compare the great pianist in 1989 and 20 years earlier. Apart from his physical appearance, Richter plays two of the Chopin Etudes (Op.10:4 and 12) that appear in the 1989 Barbican Centre filming as well. The “bonus” earlier recordings also include Rachmaninoff’s Etude-Tableau, Op. 39 No. 3.

The 1969 black-and-white film shows the pianist in full flower, emoting and impetuous in manner. This is largely absent in his more constrained, but still wonderfully executed, later performance that includes eight Etudes from Op.10 and four from Op. 25. Although Richter died in 1997, his technical abilities remained largely undiminished until his last few years, when depression took its toll.

Mozart’s Sonatas 4, 8, and 16, though visually grainy sometimes, are in very good sound; it’s music-making of the highest order. Somewhat annoying is the glare when the camera focusses on a single 40 watt bulb, the only lighting Richter would allow. He further insisted that the cameras be placed where he could not see them. Despite his notorious temperament and the presence of a page turner, this is an important document and a treasure not to be missed.

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10:44:45 PM, 4 July 2015
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