(Melodiya, four CDs)
(Melodiya, four CDs)
The centenary of the birth of Sviatoslav Richter, the supreme pianist of the second half of the 20th century, falls next March. His legacy on disc is already prodigious – though Richter became increasingly reluctant to perform in a studio, a high proportion of his recitals in his last three decades were recorded, and many of those have been already been released and rereleased on a wide variety of labels. But Melodiya begins what promises to be a lavish birthday celebration with a collection of Schubert performances – three discs devoted to sonatas, one to smaller pieces, all of which have not apparently appeared before – taken from recitals in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1971, 1978 and 1979.
Though not all of the material is quite as new to disc as claimed – the 1978 account of the G major Sonata D894, for instance, was issued as part of a Brilliant Classics compilation – it is still a wonderful, sometimes magical set, with very decent analogue sound and only occasional audience noise. Schubert was always a central part of Richter's repertory, and where with other composers he was sometimes curiously partial – he avoided Beethoven's Waldstein and Moonlight sonatas, as well as Chopin's Second sonata – with Schubert he was much more inclusive; the late, great A major sonata was the only significant work he didn't play. There are seven of the sonatas here, including two versions of the E minor D566, one with three movements, one with four. The emphasis is on those early sonatas; as well as the composite E minor work, we get the B major D575, F minor D625 and A major D664, together with two of the later ones: the G major and the C minor D958.
Sheer beauty … Sviatoslav Richter. Photograph: Rex Features
Richter's approach to late Schubert was famously expansive. He takes 25 minutes over the first movement of the G major sonata here, turning it into an unworldly meditation in which time seems suspended, and in which the sheer beauty of his sound is all that sustains it – though by contrast, his performance of the C minor is much less weighty and fraught than might be expected. The disc of miniatures, which includes three of the impromptus and three of the Moments musicaux, is a delight too; Richter's genius could find musical truth and beauty on the smallest as well as the largest scale.