Often named the supreme pianist of his era, Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) was a poet of the keyboard and an enigmatic, sometimes eccentric figure. These 24 CDs span three centuries of music – repertoire for solo piano and piano duo, chamber music, song and concerto – and bring Richter together with other great artists of his time. As the New York Times wrote, his pianism “combined astonishing technical mastery with bold, wide-ranging musical imagination. His control over the colorings of piano tone was incomparable.”
This 24-CD box set gathers together all the recordings that Sviatoslav Richter made, primarily in the 1970s, for the HMV (EMI) and Teldec labels.
Richter, considered by many to be the greatest pianist of the latter half of the 20th century, was born in 1915 in Ukraine to parents of German extraction. He trained at the Moscow Conservatory under Heinrich Neuhaus (who also taught another of the supreme pianists of the Soviet era, Emil Gilels). Neuhaus considered the young Richter “already a complete artist", who had the ability to build a piece "so that it seemed to lie before him like an immense landscape, revealed to the eye at a single glance".
Richter became a lifelong advocate of the music of his friend Prokofiev, whose 6th, 7th and 9th piano sonatas he premiered, and who features in this set along with Bach, Bartók, Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Dvořák, Grieg, Handel, Mozart, Schubert and Schumann. This array of composers, spanning three centuries, gives an indication of the breadth of Richter’s musical interests. He was a towering soloist who also had a great love of chamber music, vocal music and opera (especially Wagner).
His first appearances in the West came in 1960, the year in which he caused a sensation in the USA. Over time he became known as an enigmatic, even volatile, eccentric and elusive figure and towards the end of his performing career he played from a score, illuminated by a single lamp, with the concert hall in darkness. He died in 1997.
Another of the 20th century’s major pianists, Glenn Gould, praised Richter for achieving “such a perfect liaison with the instrument that the mechanical process involved becomes all but invisible…and the performer, and consequently the listener, is then able to ignore all superficial questions of virtuosity or instrumental display and concentrate instead on the spiritual qualities inherent in the music itself”. After his death, the New York Times wrote: “Mr. Richter's pianism combined astonishing technical mastery with bold, wide-ranging musical imagination. His control over the colorings of piano tone was incomparable. In romantic works by Schumann and Chopin, he could create uncanny effects with sound and shadings. And he could project inner voices in the sonatas of Schubert, which he particularly loved, and of Bach with extraordinary clarity and independence.” The Guardian judged Richter “a connoisseur's pianist, a supreme lyric poet of the keyboard for whom the piano was an extension of his own body and mind and a means to musical thought that was devoted to the composer in question,” while in 2015, Gramophone wrote: “Richter was a chameleon who couldn’t be pigeonholed. He called himself ‘a normal human being who happens to play the piano.”
This collection features solo music, piano duos, chamber music, song and concertos. Among the magnificent line-up of performers joining Richter are: pianists Elisabeth Leonskaja and Andre Gavrilov (both protégés of Richter); string players David Oistrakh, Oleg Kagan, Yuri Bashmet and Mstislav Rostropovich; baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; the Borodin Quartet, and conductors Herbert von Karajan, Carlos Kleiber, Lorin Maazel and Riccardo Muti.