Sviatoslav Richter

Sviatoslav Richter Archives, Vol. 16: Reger: Piano Quintet; Poulenc: Concerto for 2 pianos; Aubade

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Doremi's Sviatoslav Richter Archives rolls ever onward, introducing new performances and repertoire to the late, great Russian pianist's discography. Volume 16 brings together three highly unusual live recordings: Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos performed with pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja and the Latvian Symphony Orchestra under Peter Magi from 1993, Poulenc's Aubade with the Jean-François Paillard Chamber Orchestra from 1965, and Reger's Piano Quintet No. 2 with the Borodin String Quartet from 1960. But though all these works are new additions to Richter's discography, one might wonder whether they will be viewed as worthwhile additions by anyone except the pianist's hardcore fans.

Richter plays Poulenc with the strength of 10 men, though one suspects the French modernist would have preferred it otherwise. Richter plays the whole of the Aubade as if it was by Prokofiev, and he and Leonskaja bang away at the outer movements of the Concerto for Two Pianos as if in a contest to see who could hit the keyboard the hardest. Their attack is less brutal in the central Larghetto, but Richter and Leonskaja's tone still has too much steel in it and not enough silk. Even if they are arguably wrongheaded, these are by no means bad performances. Richter's virtuoso pianism and his sympathetic rapport with Leonskaja are extremely impressive. But these performances are far more interesting for what they tell us about Richter than for what they tell us about Poulenc.

On the program's last item, Richter and the Borodin Quartet do as much as can possibly be done with Reger's apoplectic Piano Quintet, but still not enough to make it enjoyable. The players struggle with the Bavarian fin de siècle composer's ponderous textures and lugubrious tempos, but they find no memorable melodies, haunting harmonies, or infectious rhythms in the quintet, only arid turgidity. All the performances are live and the recorded sound is consistent only in its harshness.

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