Most listeners who know Sviatoslav Richter's recordings probably already know his famous performance of Schubert's final B flat major Sonata from the June 1964 Aldeburgh Festival. As one English critic said at the time, "it was a performance of lifetime" -- and the passing years have done nothing to diminish that judgment. As released here on BBC Music, Richter's B flat major Sonata has mysterious depths and ecstatic mysteries that few others have ever approached. His enormous intensity, his immense concentration, his unequalled ability to make every line sing and every harmony sound, and his unsurpassed genius for bringing out the full and complete meaning of every gesture make this recording one of the most harrowing performances of the B flat major Sonata ever made -- and most listeners who know Richter probably already know this recording from one of its many previous incarnations.
But even listeners who know Richter might not know the recordings of the two works that precede the B flat Sonata on the program: a recording of Schumann's Papillions from Royal Festival Hall in 1963 and a recording of the same composer's Introduction and Allegro appassionato from the 1965 Aldeburgh Festival. Although the very start of Papillions abounds in missed notes, Richter quickly gains control and the remainder of his performance is amazingly poetic, particularly the hushed pianissimo he achieves in the penultimate movement. With the English Chamber Orchestra led by Benjamin Britten, Richter's Introduction and Allegro appassionato has nearly no missed notes and almost as much poetry, plus an ardently yearning tone that perfectly suits the music. BBC Music's sound is generally more than adequate, but better in the solo pieces than in the concerted work.