December 14th, 2007
C. Way/ SnailCrow.com © 2007
Still trying to understand why everyone creams giant buckets over Richter.
Cupfuls maybe. Possibly mugfuls. But not buckets.
I’ve owned the 1958 Sofia Recital on disc for a few years. The Mussorgsky is rightfully praised — the “Great Gates” is epic and always tremendously moving. The Liszt is sublime: athletic and deft and heroic.
But his version of Chopin’s Etude in E approaches awful. True, there’s the requisite stately tenderness. And in terms of rubato, pacing, much of it succeeds. But the middle section, where *measured* hunger & ardor are called for — just as in the middle passages of many of the composer’s Nocturnes — Richter instead delivers a spastic and methed-up blitz that’s practically ridiculous. It’s as if he couldn’t wait to get to the four Liszt pieces immediately after in the programme.
(I suddenly feel a little silly and petty carping on the flaws of a legend like this. I mean christ, the guy achieved a level of intimacy and virtuosity with his instrument that most of us can’t even dream of, let alone come close to even if we spent the next 100 seasons toiling in study.
But this is the internet after all. Where any silly & petty humbug like me can armchair-quarterback about subjects minute & profound to everyone (& no one’s) irritation. So back to the carp.)
I love Richter’s strength, intellect and passion, but there are lots of moments across his recorded works where I feel like his emotional radar is just flat-out off. In the case of the Etude in E, it can lead to bewildering results (based on this, I’d hate to hear him in the Ballades).
Now if we’re talking loose & impetuous interpretations of Chopin, I much prefer an Argerich, or a Cortot — pianists who take emotional risks in their interpretations but who would never — and physically, perhaps, *could* never — pummel and throttle a score like Richter does in the Etude in E.