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Murky sounds – particularly orchestral ones – in these 1950s recordings by the Russian keyboard titan Sviatoslav Richter (1915-1997) are given bright immediacy here, as is usual with Pristine audio restorations. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Piano Concerto in C sharp minor reveals a lyrical, poetic young Richter, while Prokofiev’s D flat major Concerto is dispatched lightly and energetically. Glazunov’s F minor Concerto is a coyly wandering curiosity, perhaps over- influenced by Chopin’s concertos and Tchaikovsky’s ballets. Richter plays it with warmth, affection and charm. In Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, Richter immediately takes command with a dynamic rendition that vivifies Kurt Sanderling’s cumbersome tempos.

Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto never ideally suited Richter, although his swift 1954 rendition conducted by Karel Ančerl (available on Supraphon SU 4014-2) is surely his happiest attempt. Richter’s oft-massive, monumental approach, as if he were performing an orchestral score instead of a soloist’s part, could result in adamant, emphatic performances seemingly cast in bronze. This statufying occurs in the present 1958 Tchaikovsky, not helped by Yevgeny Mravinsky’s coldly formal approach. Even more off-putting are the sluggish tempos sinking the Second Rachmaninov Concerto, led by Sanderling with Richter playing a lugubrious death march instead of the more ardent yearning heard in the composer’s own recording.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2014 - ©Rhinegold Publishing