Richter, Kleiber: Dvořák - Piano Concerto, Schubert - Wanderer Fantasy (FLAC)
Richter, Kleiber: Dvořák – Piano Concerto, Schubert – Wanderer Fantasy (FLAC)

Composers: Antonin Dvorak, Franz Schubert
Performer: Sviatoslav Richter
Orchestra: Bayerishes Staatsorchester München
Conductor: Carlos Kleiber
Audio CD
SPARS Code: Mono ADD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks+cue)
Label: EMI Classics
Size: 250 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: no

01. Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33 – I. Allegro agitato
02. Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33 – II. Andante sostenuto
03. Piano Concerto in G Minor, Op. 33 – III. Allegro con fuoco
04. Fantasy in C Major, D.760 ‘Wanderer’ – I. Allegro con fuoco ma non troppo
05. Fantasy in C Major, D.760 ‘Wanderer’ – II. Adagio
06. Fantasy in C Major, D.760 ‘Wanderer’ – III. Presto
07. Fantasy in C Major, D.760 ‘Wanderer’ – IV. Allegro

Biting Drama

Sviatoslav Richter’s solo performance of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy is most definitely a force majeure that is notable for its propulsivity and powerful, strong-armed approach. Richter strains the abilities of his piano in this virtuosic work, nearly approaching brittleness (playing style or piano, I am not sure), but also showing his facility of musicianship with an unusually thoughtful 2nd movement balanced with the unusually swift 3rd movement and the aggressive outer movements. All in all, this Fantasie in C Major is the crown jewel of the disc, and having recently listened to Richter’s equally forceful and propulsive interpretation of the Appassionata Sonata by Beethoven (see Leinsdorf and Chicago on RCA), shows himself as a master of both showmanship and musicianship in these Romantic warhorses.

Dvorak’s ungainly Piano Concerto cannot compete with his divine epic edifice the Cello Concerto (see Szell and Fournier) or his Romantically sumptuous Violin Concerto (see Perlman and Barenboim); there simply isn’t enough melodic inventiveness, Eastern-European harmonic interest, or countlessly impressive orchestral solos to maintain the coherency and drama of those veteran concertante works. On the plus side, Dvorak does make it very apparent that the orchestra and piano have plenty of back and forth, almost warlike in the first movement, and while the piano solo wasn’t composed intelligently for pianists, Richter, using Dvorak’s original score, not Kurz’s water-downed version, makes it sound virtuosically grand.

The 1st movement of the Piano Concerto’s ungainly runtime is saved by Carlos Kleiber’s (and the Bavarian State Orchestra) forward movement and aggressive playing, really whipping up a fervor between the opposing performing forces. Equally, Richter ekes out every last drop of emotion from the 2nd movement with an unusually delicate, yet heart-rending opening, clear through the unusually stormy conclusion of the midsection, and the 3rd is filled with a mix of masterful bravado and contemplative romance. Richter shows himself as an impressively bold pianist, certainly not all flash and fire as his musicianship never flags in Dvorak’s abrupt switches in tone and mood, but he is never afraid to lay in when the changes come around. Kleiber is right there with Richter and the German orchestra is both gloriously biting and lushly colourful when called upon.

Warner Classics has rereleased the remastered EMI Great Recordings of the Century recordings from 1963 and 1976 and they sound really good; the orchestra is heard well and the brass cut through aggressively. I would say, however, that the balance between orchestra and piano are quite natural as I never felt an overwhelming presence of one group over the other, so if you want a spotlight piano sound, this recording won’t provide it; Richter’s powerful fingerwork are more than enough to make himself heard well though. All in all, this is a great-sounding disc.

This famous Richter/Kleiber collaboration, along with the outstanding Wanderer Fantasy is an easy first choice recording for both of these works. In the Dvorak Piano Concerto, Nikolaus Harnoncourt is too ruminating for any sense to be made, Hough and Nelsons are perhaps too classically chaste, the Czech Rudolf Firkusny had a few classic recordings, but he uses the Kurz reimagining of Dvorak’s piano part, Andras Schiff’s piano is caught much closer than Richter’s, but Dohnanyi’s orchestra is relegated to the back, and while Leonard Bernstein’s performance is an all-around joyous affair, the poorly performed pairing of the Tchaikovsky Concerto cannot stand up to Richter’s Schubert here. Compare on your own, but this Dvorak/Schubert recording is a complete success. Highly Recommended.

Excellent Richter but inappropriate orchestral style

Richter was very fond of the Dvorak concerto and always played the original version. On his first visit to Britain in 1961 it was the first concerto he played, with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Kiril Kondrashin in the Albert Hall. On that visit Philips recorded studio performances of the Liszt Concertos which the same artists also played in concert, but unfortunately not the Dvorak. So far as I know, this recording made in Munich for the work’s centenary in the 1970s is the only time Richter made a studio recording of it, so it is disappointing that a more appropriate orchestra and conductor were not employed. The Czech conductor Karel Ancerl once said that the first thing he had to do when conducting Dvorak with a German orchestra was to persuade them how NOT to play it, and this is what doesn’t seem to have happened here. Richter plays the solo part beautifully, but as soon as the orchestra enters the style becomes inflated and pompous, quite the wrong thing for Dvorak’s music in general and this concerto in particular. Kleiber is certainly efficient enough, and the orchestra seems to be a good one, but even Richter himself seems a bit inhibited by the circumstances, and the recording is a little below standard for the period – not as clear as the Liszt made fifteen or so years earlier, for example. Apparently Richter himself was very dissatisfied by the atmosphere during the recording and by the result, and this is not surprising.

Recordings of live performances by Richter in the Dvorak Concerto do exist – the LSO / Kondrashin one mentioned above, one made in Prague with Vaclav Smetacek and also one with Yevgeni Svetlanov. Any of these show Richter much more successfully in this concerto, though none is too well recorded – the Prague version is the easiest to find, on the French Praga label. Two recordings by other pianists were also made for the centenary – Bruno Rigutto with the French National Radio Orchestra and Zdenek Macal, Radoslav Kvapil with Brno Orchestra and Frantisek Jilek. Those are both excellent performances which present the work in its true scale and colours. The work is a difficult one to bring off, and I’m not sure that any of the more recent recorded versions equal these two.

The Schubert Wanderer is given a superb performance, unlike any other I’ve heard.

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