One of the cool things about collecting recordings by Russian pianist Sviatoslav Richter is that there are so many of them out there. Of the four pieces on this 2007 BBC Music disc, only Schubert's rightly neglected Thirteen Variations on a Theme by Anselm Hüttenbrenner exists in just this recording from October 8, 1969. Of the three other pieces, the Schubert A minor Sonata taped in London on March 31, 1979, is the second of two recordings, the first taped six weeks earlier in Tokyo. Richter's standard selection of six of Schumann's eight Fantasiestücke recorded at the same 1969 concert was preceded by two 1956 recordings, one from Prague and Moscow. And the 1969 concert's encore, Debussy's Cloches à travers les feuilles, joins six other earlier and later recordings of the same work in Richter's discography.
As Richter's fans know, the cool part in all these multiple recordings of the same works is in comparing accents, phrasing, tempos, and the hundreds of other interpretive differences between performances. While to say more would spoil their fun, phrases like "almost unbearably brutal"; "much, much weirder"; and "possibly even more luminous than usual" wouldn't be out of place in a critical discussion.
Of course, even his fans have to concede that, while surely one of the greatest virtuosos of the second half of the twentieth century, Richter was by no means a flawless player. Aside from the Debussy encore, there are mistakes aplenty in most of these performances, and for the uninitiated, these may prove hard to overlook. But for the pianist's fans, Richter's digital independence, expressive intensity, poised tempos, balanced sonorities, and transcendent beauty of tone have always made his flaws entirely ignorable and they will no doubt succeed in ignoring them here, too. Recorded 10 years apart, the live sound here is serviceable but unlovely.