* RICHTER, Sviatoslav(20th Mar. 1915 ~ 1st Aug. 1997)
[ The holy devil, or satanic angel? ]
[ Left Photo ] Sviatoslav Richter
If we have to evaluate all the pianists regardless of the personal tastes, there will be several creteria like the width of repertoire, technique, and individuality, etc. I think there is the only one that can be chosen in top 3 by any respects, Sviatoslav Richter. His strongest 'competitor' is perhaps Vladimir Horowitz, but a critical drawback is the width of repertoire. Other Austro-German pianists like Backhaus, Rudolf Serkin, and Kempff are not comparable to Richter in this respect, too.
Teofilovich Richter was born in Zhitomir, in Ukraine. His
family resided in Zhitomir from his grandfather, and his
father(Teofil) learned piano and organ in Vienna
Conservatory and taught piano at Zhitomir and Odessa
Conservatory. He married one of his pupil. But our young
Slava did not learn much from his father. He almost
taught himself. We can't know the exact reason, but I
guess there are some clues in Heinrich Neuhaus's 'The Art
of piano playing'; Famed piano teachers are so busy
teaching his pupils as to have little time for their own
children. Anyway, we can hear of Slava that he can play
Liszt's work at 16, and the most complex orchestral
scores(e.g. Wagner) at first sight. He was enough to be
called a real genius.
Richter's family history is often on his fan's tongue. HIs father was killed by Beria's NKVD(later KGB) only because he has German origin after the 'Barba Rosa' operation. His mother formally married an acquaintance, moving to Germany following the retreating German army. At Moscow, Slava received the news that his mother was dead. But his mother heard a radio broadcast of her son in West Germany, and was able to see her son in 1960 after the legendary Carnegie Hall debut. How happy ther mother and the son were! And, Slava 'married' Soprano Nina Dorliac(1908~1997) in 1946. They never declared the marriage publicly, but Nina was accompanied by Slava at her every recital, and she had been with him at all of his concert journey. Of course, they lived at a house, apartment in Moscow.
Slava's Moscow official debut concert was in 1940 by the sonata No.6 of Serge Prokofiev, who himself chose Slava's playing. He praised Richter, "He makes my works totally new" (we should remember an episode that Prokofiev stopped David Oistrakh's playing because he did not think it was good enough) Later, Richter premiered his sonata No.7 and No.9(No.8 was premiered by Emil Gilels), and the latter was dedicated to Richter. His Prokofiev recordings at the labels of Melodiya, EMI, and DG show the best of him and are considered as one of the typical interpretations of Prokofiev.
After the WWII, his fame began to be spread behind the iron curtain. He won the first prize at All-Soviet Concour, and was praised as 'the Liszt of our time' at 'Spring of Prague' festival. But in the Western world, only rare LPs of Melodiya was known, though Gilels declared "Wait for Richter" at Paris in 1955. Richter was not in the Soviet's best artists including Oistrakh and Gilels, of the 1955 Western tour. It was Van Cliburn and Glenn Gould that decisively informed Slava of the Western music world. Van heard Richter's playing at the Moscow, in the famous 1957 Tchaikovsky Concour visit. He said "The most powerful playing I have ever heard". Gould also entered one of the Richter's recital in his 1957 Moscow tour. Richter began by Schubert's Sonata No.21, of which the Melodiya 1971 recording shocked the listeners by the extremely slow tempo of the first movement. Gould remembered the concert as "the moment I saw the best interpreter of music that our age had borne".
The legendary impresario Sol Hurok tried to contact Slava from then on, but his American tour was realized only at 1960. HIs first concert program in Western world was Brahms's concert No.2 with the Chicago Symphony conducted by Erich Leinsdorf. It was an amazing success, and the successive concerts at the Carnegie Hall firmly settled his fame. Critics unanimously praised his technique and music, especially were surprised at his Beethoven. From 1961, he toured the Western Europe, and it was also a succession of great triumphs. He was praised as one of the great pianists of the 20th century from then on, as the same rank with Backhaus, Horowitz, Rudolf Serkin, and Artur Rubinstein.
They say his personality was very affable, but that not normal. He met the demonstration against Soviet's invading Czeko at USA in 1968. He said "Why must they intervene the politics to the art?" and never played in USA again. Richter was in juries of the 1957 Tchaikovsky concour. He gave the 100 points to Van Cliburn though the full was only 10 points. After the 'accident', no suggestion of concour jury was given to him.
He toured all over the world including Japan and Korea. I was lucky to be at the concert of his Seoul recital on 20th April 1994, programmed Prokofiev, Scriabin, and Ravel. It was undoubtedly the best concert I have ever heard from now on. He did not exile to Western World from the the Soviet regime, but lived most of his late years in France. He returned to Russia shortly before he died, and passed away by heart attack.
It is next to impossible to define Richter's
artistry by a word. He is a camelleon, and shows totally
different face as the repertoire. Such a many face is unprecedented even in
the best pianists. I think only Artur Rubinstein is near
him at this capability, but that Rubinstein almost could
not defy J.S.Bach(except for only Bach-Busoni's
Chaconne). Often noted, who except Richter can play the
Well-Tempered Clavier and Tchaikovsky's Piano Sonata
equally well? I can imagine no intersection between his
warm Bach and Tchaikovsky's motor-like impetus. Even his tone is a camellon
by the recording label and concert hall, too. Though chosen in the recordings of
the similar dates, the tone of Schumann's Fantasy and
Beethoven's Tempest(EMI, 1961) is round, that of the
Liszt's concertos(Philips, 1961) brilliant, and that of
the extracts of Bach's WTC(DG, 1962 live) warm and
diffusive. More examples are that of Brahms's concerto
No.2 with Leinsdorf(RCA, 1960; hard and concentric), and
of Schumann's Symphonic Etude(Melodiya, 1971; shockingly
powerful, mature, and somewhat 'cool'). Compared to
Backhaus, Kempff, Horowitz, and Rubinstein, Richter's individuality is
NOT his tone. It's clear. [
After Bruno Monsaingeon's book, he never chose piano and
said "When I am well, I can find my tone easily at
any piano, but not well I can't." I was able to
understand why his sonority was so various. ]
His live recordings are very highly acclaimed. Frankly speaking, they appeal his ebulliant face. I want to hear his legendary Carnegie Hall debut(Columbia), which were deleted from LP catalogue by Richter's intention. But the 1958 Sofia recital(Philips) is on catalogue. The sound is never good, but the music is burning the concert hall by its overwhelming power and tension. Though not solo, the successive lives with David Oistrakh at the grand hall of Moscow conservatory between 1968 and 1972(Melodiya) are one of the best live recordings I have ever heard. Especially in them, the Franck's sonata on 1968 is undoubtedly the top in the parallel fusion of the two players, tension, and vast scale. His self-control and feelings about intuition made the performance successful in both concert hall and record. Who can darely defy music comparable to him? His 'defying spirit'(not only in repertoire) is worth while to a monument to any present pianists. I recommend the lives with Borodin SQ - Brahms's quartet No.2, and Dvorak's 2 quintets(Philips).
In the late years, Richter preferred the small hall or museum to the great hall. Because of his health and capricious frame, he often canceled the concert schedule. The concert-goers had to know the programs only by the concert pamphlet. He always tried to enhance his playing, and always full of the 'unsatisfaction to the performance of his own'. Therefore someone said him as 'The holy devil'. However, I don't agree with this. Sometimes he emphasized the other side of the music - ebulliant and fanatic, but changed it to the heavenly peaceful atmosphere shortly after. I want to suggest his nickname should be 'The satanic angel'.
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Created ; 3rd Aug. 2003