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David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2009

The first release in an invaluable new series of early recordings made in Russia by the legendary pianist, Sviatoslav Richter. Yet his story borders on the bizarre, having only begun formal studies when he was twenty-two, and was relatively unknown until his success in Moscow’s All-Union Piano Competition when he was thirty. Born in 1915 as the son of a German pianist-composer and his young Russian student, he largely taught himself sight-reading as much music as he could find. It was a training that proved ideal for his early employment as an accompanist in a theater company. With restrictions on travel imposed by the Communist state, his first visit to the West was delayed until 1960, by which time he was forty-five, his recordings jacking-up expectations created by his recordings. It was in the late 1940s that he had his first studio experience, the results of those sessions—excerpts from Schumann’s Fantasiestücke—included in this new release. They show a pianist who could create the most beautiful and tender moments, though some might argue that his reluctance to use pedals created a dry atmosphere. He recorded just five, which was typical of an approach that disregarded the need to play whole works. He did, however, include the composer’s complete Humoreske, probably as part of his quest to bring lesser heard works to a wider public. Here he mixes his ability to create repose with passages that bristle with brilliance. That originated from 1956 when Russian recording standards had vastly improved, elsewhere, in a disc covering the period 1948–56, we have a group of three Schubert pieces and Chopin’s Fifth Etude, in sound that is fairly basic. Nothing revelatory but worth hearing.

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