Richter at the Barbican
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 07/19/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This recital was originally broadcast on BBC-TV in 1989. Richter was 74 then but clearly had not lost any of his powers. He had, however, developed some idiosyncrasies that have a bearing on this recording. He was playing this recital, consisting of three Mozart sonatas and a selection from Chopin's Op. 10 and 25 études, before a live audience but insisted on having no lighting on the stage except for a crook-neck lamp shone directly on the keyboard and on the scores from which he was playing. This came as news to the BBC-TV crew and they had to, at the last moment, make do with filming him on a darkened stage. Still, after a few moments one does not mind this at all because the filming is primarily of his hands which, for me at least, was an education in itself.
Needless to say, Richter's playing does not need any describing to those who are his fans, but for those who are new to Richter's playing I'll offer brief descriptions. Before the intermission he plays three Mozart sonatas: No. 4 in E Flat Major, K.282; No. 16 in C Major, K.545; and No. 8 in A Minor, K.310. His Mozart is both pristine and romantic. That is to say that both his ability to bring out with utmost clarity the musical line and his penchant for highly personal rubati is very much in evidence. This makes for somewhat unusual Mozart but it is convincing nonetheless. (I'm reminded of his recording of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier which has these same characteristics. And I confess that his WTC is my favorite piano recording of that masterpiece.)
In the second half he plays twelve of Chopin's Etudes (Op. 10 Nos 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10, 11 and 12; Op. 25 Nos 5, 6, 8 and 11 'The Revolutionary'). His Chopin is masculine, dramatic and exciting. His playing of the C sharp minor étude (Op. 10, No. 4) is one of the most breathtaking I've ever heard. (Interestingly, there is a bonus of three tracks recorded in black and white in 1969, twenty years earlier, where he also plays the C sharp minor and although it is noticeably faster than the 1989 performance, it is not quite as exciting.) The 'Revolutionary' étude is also fantastic. The three bonus tracks include a fabulous performance of Rachmaninov's Étude-Tableau Op. 39, No. 3 in F Sharp Minor that fair makes one gape with admiration.
I have given this DVD five stars even though visually some may be disappointed by the above-described limitations. But as I said, I found myself not even much noticing it after the first few moments. Indeed, I found myself focusing far more on the music and Richter's hands than I did on the setting.
An unqualified recommendation, then, for Richter's legion of fans. Perhaps slightly less so for those newly coming to Richter's artistry.
Running time (with bonus tracks): 90mins; Format: NTSC 4:3; Sound: PCM stereo; Region code: 0 (worldwide)