This two-disc Decca set of Sviatoslav Richter's 1963 Shostakovich recordings and his 1993 Scriabin and Prokofiev recordings is a re-release of the same recordings in the same order as they appeared in Philips' 1994 Richter Edition. For those not already familiar with the performances, the Scriabin and Prokofiev performances here are among Richter's best in the repertoire. Nobody, not even Horowitz, ever made Scriabin's rhapsodic tempos and voluptuous harmonies sound so inspired, and nobody, not even the composer himself, could out-perform Richter in Prokofiev's muscular piano writing. And his Shostakovich performances are even better. Strong-willed, clear-eyed, and steel-fingered, Richter reveals giddy heights and abysmal depths in the preludes and fugues that even the composer seems not to have known were there in his own recordings.
It must, however, be acknowledged that Richter's choice of repertoire and programming is typically eccentric. For Prokofiev, he picks one of the 10 Pieces, Op. 12; 10 of the 20 Visions fugitives, Op. 22; five of the 10 pieces excerpted from his Cinderella Suites, Opp. 97 and 102, plus two of the lesser-known sonatas (No. 4 and No. 6) and all four of the hardly known Pieces (4) Op. 32. For Shostakovich, he picks five of the well-known 24 Preludes and Fugues, Op. 87, but completely switches around their order. For Scriabin, he picks one very early, very Chopin-esque piece -- the Fantaisie, Op. 28 -- and four very late, very decadent pieces -- the Poème-nocturne, Op. 61; the Deux danses, Op. 73; and Vers la flamme, Op. 72. Even for listeners who know the music and the performer well, the result is fresh and challenging. The live digital recordings of Scriabin and Prokofiev are big, close, and sometimes a bit harsh. The studio stereo recordings of Shostakovich are a bit hard and a tad distant, but very vivid.