With a discography so vast it is difficult to speak of a particular group of recordings for a particular label as being better or more central than those for another, Sviatoslav Richter can be difficult to pin down for recommendations. But his complete recordings for the EMI label are undeniably an excellent choice.
The best of Richter's solo recordings here are those of Schubert and Schumann. In no other recorded performances has a pianist so well expressed the ardent lyricism and athletic virtuosity of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy or the passionate longing and ecstatic release of Schumann's C major Fantasy. Almost as fine are Richter's luminous reading of Beethoven's Andante favori and harrowing account of the same composer's Tempest Sonata. More problematic, perhaps, are Richter's intensely expressive interpretations of eight of Handel's keyboard sonatas, but few would dispute their effectiveness.
In the chamber music recordings, Richter is paired only with other Soviet artists -- the steely Oleg Kagan in elegant accounts of Mozart's violin sonatas and the adept Borodin Quartet in a ravishingly beautiful performance of Schubert's Trout Quintet -- except in one memorable case in which he and the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau team up for a lyrical reading of Brahms' Die schöne Magelone song cycle.
Richter's performances in the concerto recordings here are not always so consistent. Sometimes, as in his serene performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22, his playing is practically perfect in its balance of light and dark. Other times, as in his surprisingly straightforward account of Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 2, his playing is ordinary. But when Richter is on, as in his impetuous Grieg concerto, fervent Schumann concerto, and above all his commanding Dvorák concerto, he is untouchable. In a special class of its own is Richter's recording of Beethoven's Triple Concerto with David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich accompanied by the Berliner Philharmoniker under Herbert von Karajan. Together with his two greatest contemporaries, Richter turns in a performance of extraordinary elegance, endless energy, and surpassing loveliness.
Recorded between 1961 and 1980 in concert halls and recording studios across Europe, EMI's stereo sound is generally clean, warm, and very present.