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‘I don’t like myself’. Sviatoslav Richter (1915-97) closes this incredible film, now available on Blu-ray, in the most poignant manner possible – only the affirmatory ‘that’s it’ he adds is more heartbreaking. Bruno Monsaingeon’s multi-award winning film (1998), lasting over two-and-a-half hours, explores via interview and archive footage a pianist who to this day is shrouded in mystery. Initially, a never- ending succession of black-and-white photographs accompanies Richter’s narration, which itself is peppered with memorable quotes (‘Everything was fine until I was 11. Then came the worst period of my life: school’).

The range and breadth of Richter’s repertoire was legendary, and here we get an impression of this as the pianist explores his background, his parents, Neuhaus, Yudina, his relationship to his partner Nina Dorliak, his (in)famous dislike of America and all he found there, and the highlighting of significant events in his life: his playing of Bach at Stalin’s funeral (where he was hissed), for example. Then there is his relationship with other musicians: the character clash with Karajan (Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with Oistrakh and Rostropovich; there is also archive footage of this trio playing the piece with Kondrashin), a remarkable Feierreiter (Wolf) with Fischer-Dieskau, the Tchaikovsky Trio with Natalia Gutman and Oleg Kagan … the treasures seem endless.

Other aspects are here too. He explains why he preferred Yamaha pianos (the extreme pianissimi) and the ‘curse’ of his phenomenal memory, while we hear that in Spanish music, he ‘found nothing’. The Blu-ray medium offers the footage in the best possible quality. Indispensable.

COLIN CLARKE Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Piano International, 2015 - ©Rhinegold Publishing