Sviatoslav Richter

Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 8 Op. 13; Tchaikovsky: Grand Sonata Op. 37; Franck: Prélude, Choral et Fugue

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Pretty much everything about this disc is a joke except for the two things that really matter: the performer and the music. The cover, a small photograph of the performer next to crude cartoons of three Napoleonic-era soldiers and a line drawing of a peasant leading a cow, is goofy. The sound, described as being accomplished by "Hi-End Restoration Technology," is rudimentary. And the notes, which specify only the city and year the recordings were originally made, are otherwise utterly nonexistent.

But in the end none of this matters very much for two reasons. First, the performer is Sviatoslav Richter, one of the twentieth century's greatest pianists. These recordings were made in Moscow in 1956, that is, before Richter's international career, but they are nevertheless incredibly thrilling and absolutely compelling. Richter's total control of piano playing and his complete command of the score makes his youthful performances here as riveting as the greatest of his later performance. Second, the music is Beethoven's Pathétique Sonata, Tchaikovsky's Grand Sonata, and Franck's Prélude, Chorale et Fugue, that is, three of the most demanding works in the repertoire. And although there have been other great recordings of all three works, Richter's demonic Beethoven, spiritual Franck, and especially his heroic Tchaikovsky are in a class of their own. While this disc is impossible to recommend to anyone who doesn't already know and love the music and the performer, those who do are urged to check out this disc.

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