Package - 2/5 stars
Cds are placed in multicolored, strong cardboard box, with 7 double cd cardboard sleeves and paperpack leaflet, containing clear layout of contains of all cds. The separate cd doubles do not contain track list, only list of works - you should use leaflet to find exact tracking - not too easy and in time leaflet will wear out. Each cd pack is defined by recording period - first from 1954, ending with 1983, each doublepack with high-quality Richter photo - nice. Each cd has its own color code and that it used as decorative motive in package - design might divide opinions, it reminded me of Russian constructivists. The thick, softbound leaflet (I would have preferred stronger binding) decorated with all 14 color stripes. I do not like package of cds in cardboards, they are not easy to handle, and scratching is possible. This problem is made worse because cds have minimum markings on label side, it is not easy to say which side is right side while pulling cd out. I noted there are some small paper sticks in surface of cds - be careful with them not to enter your cd player.
Leaflet and information - 4/5 stars
Nice essay by Richter expert Márta Papp: Richter in Hungary, life and career, comment by Denzö Ránki,. There is a nice description of contents of each pair of cds. With essay I liked the Monsaingeon quote of Richter's personality: "...free of every kind of sentimental expression...original personality...untouched by the Soviet regime, but he was undefiled by Western civilization too. He was independent of time, era, independent of fashion - and this gave him incredible force. Force, but not in the sense of violence. " Interesting photos, high printing quality, but artistically not the best Richter photos I have seen. Texts are in English, French, German and - which is nice - Hungarian. Essays and cd information can be found in English from [...]
Recordings - 2- 4/5 stars
Even the earliest one was all right to my ears, not much hiss, mostly ok for the period, some tolerance needed especially in higher register. Sometimes ghost echoes occur, like Prokofiev's Visions, due to poorly conserved tape, partly spoiling the enjoyment of playing.
I have not made comparision between different remasterings of same recordings (for example by Doremi). Very interestingly, I found from Doremi SR Archives no 5, that it contains Prokofiev 6th sonata, live in Budapest April 29, 1963 - not contained in this Richter in Hungary set! So this set does not contain all recorded Richter in Hungary, nor does it claim to be complete.
Interpretation - 3-6 stars
The cds contain mostly the usual Richter classical-romantic repertoire, with some exceptions - Szymanowski, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. Of big boxes, I feel starter had it better to buy first Praque box or DGG box, continuing trough selected Melodiya and Philips cds to this box.
Because there is such an embarrassment of riches in Richter repertoire, I mention basic works (like Schumann, Bach, Beethoven) only when I felt they have some exceptional quality. I tend to think Richter did not much change his views of works - he had a strong and reasonable vision of work, usually lasting lifetime with only slight differences between recorded versions. My emphasis is on those works that are not so common in his repertoire - like Mendelssohn, or Schubert D946, or Chopin Mazurkas.
CD1: All starts with the only orchestral item of the box, Schumann concerto. Richter's teacher, Neuhaus told a story how Gilels mentioned it as "the greatest piano concerto". The performance here is worthy this title: poetical and mercurial at the same time, more refreshing than later Richter's DGG recording. Brahms items reminded me of Backhaus, interesting readings which underline melancholy of music. In blind test I would not have guessed Richter as performer. Last Brahms item has a lot of feeling, bordering sentimentality. Bach items are good. Very fast tempi in F major prelude and Gigue of French Suite - so fast it is interesting! I think these WTC selections are first Richter recorded and they define the pianistic line followed by later performances. CD2: Prokofiev 8 th sonata - very much the same like DGG version, but recording is worse here. Ravel 12 track (Valse N&S:Moins vif) is an absolute gem of interpretation, in spite of bad recording.
CD3: Powerful Schubert sonata and great Liszt playing, recordings ok. CD4: Average Beethoven (for Richter), some tolerance needed because of recording. Schubert D946 three pieces are rarity in repertoire (as applause after each piece suggest). It is good to have them - playing and recording is enjoyable. Central section of 2nd piece is inwardly dramatic, but not going to extreme compared to Pollini in the same piece. Richter gives these pieces a lot of time and breathing - which can be bad thing as well! I prefer Pollini's version. Wanderer-Fantasie suffers from bad recording, but it is otherwise hot stuff.
CD5: Handel suite is earliest (1963) known Handel recording from Richter - first time on CD (I refer to Paul Geffen's excellent Richter discography). Crisp playing - like the rest of the cd. Interesting program to combine Handel, Shostakovich, Prokofiev - wish I had been there! Richter made later that year famous Philips recording of Shostakovich pieces, but they here are in more interesting order. I like these live recordings much - they seem to be more optimistic, playful and open compared to Paris versions. Try Fugue no 17 for example, or powerful no 15 Fugue left to end the selection. CD6: Mozart sonata is almost gouldian, with austere but beautiful slow movement. Again Beethoven sonata is just average, not any special touches until finale. Recording is all right. Chopin Scherzos are much more highlight - powerful reading and sense of occasion.
CD7: Homecoming: Schumann Novelletten. This is Richter at his best: full energy and genius at the service of great composer! Haydn sonata C (Hob XVI:35) in Budapest is a new addition to CD discography - Richter's Haydn is always welcome and this is pure joy! Chopin Rondo à la Mazur is entertaining rarity, but Debussy's Puerta del Vino is a tour de force of pianistic control, excellent rhythmic handling - turning Gieseking pale in comparison. CD8: Hütterbrenner-variations are going nowhere, but fault is Schubert's, not Richter's! Schumann Fantasiestücke selection (why, why is Fabel always missing!) is a bit passive compared to DGG version. Rachmaninov selection is generous, but I prefer rarity, Prokofiev Waltz in the end of recital - entertaining, vintage Prokofiev played with fine sense of style, finely catching all the sudden changes of mood. This is a piece for repeated listening and perhaps also trying on piano by yourself - Richter's playing seems to encourage that: Master at serving Masters, preaching the memory of composers.
CD9: Bach WTC2 selection is great: miracle of Bach combined with great Russian pianist. I have been slightly disappointed with his Eurodisc/RCA WTC2 and feel this version is more optimistic, like with Shostakovich selection mentioned above. You can lift eyebrow to some arpeggio or detail, but this is pure Bach, simple-sounding complexity: try c minor fugue. Food for fingers and brains alike. Only complaint is that this is not the whole book but few chosen pairs; the cd seemed to end all too early. Forget authenticity and all that - just enjoy this music and let it balance your troubled mind. CD10: Richter made Mendelssohn sound very richterian, almost comically serious, with no-nonsense-allowed attitude - I liked it! Chopin Nocturne is very much same, but comical aspects turned into chopinesque tragic tones. And to Debussy, again. It is so amazing how one artist can be so at home with so different composers music. The answer is his honesty and modesty, I guess. Chopin's Waltzes are surprisingly relaxed, entertaining readings for fun. Mazurkas suffer more and do not reveal all their secrets, but they are not at all bad either. Schubert sonata is classic stuff - same as dreams are made of.
CD11: All-Beethoven. Playing does not light my fire, I feel this is playing on passive side, on defence, not attacking that Beethoven asks for. Best of four is A flat op 26. CD12: Liszt piece starting the cd is outstanding: alone worth of the price of the box. Introspective, meditative piece by worthy interpreter: marvellous. Excellent program continues without seam to Richter's always enjoyable Franck and ending with Szymanowsky. Very rewarding listening experience, but concentrating is essential. Debussy Preludes from different visit complete cd with style, particularly "West wind" is a thrilling performance.
CD13: Richter's Tchaikovsky pieces are warmly natural, with the tasty hint of sweetness. I definitely prefer his readings to Pletnev's which are too dry for me. There are thunderous applause and "Bravo" shouts after Rachmaninov items. CD14: I wonder as much as you, dear reader, why giants like Gilels and Richter developed such interest towards Grieg's music in their last years. Yet, this all Grieg recital is easy to listen, warm, nice - and perhaps surprisingly it is not such a cul-de-sac in interpretational sense like playing some Beethoven sonata. All is not said and done during the long career in this piano repertoire.
To sum up: this is once again a box offering treasures for all Richter fans, but can offer feeling of déjà-vu, especially in the most familiar repertoire. Overall it is 4 stars, 6 stars for some particularly inspired performances. I still wonder why there is no Bartók in Richter's recital programs in Hungary! Some comfort we got some high-quality Liszt to compensate. Playing time of cds is very generous, average over 74 mins.