Summer in Aldebrugh, and a small audience is gathered in the local church to hear Richter, not knowing that today every music lover would kill for their seats. Amazon quotes a review that notes how relaxed the great pianist seems, and I think it's true. Richter's Mozart could be brittle and impatient, but he plays the charming Sonata in G K. 283 with unaffected simplicity and poise. The rest of the program is Russian, from Tchaikovsky to Prokofiev, hitting every card in the Roladex in between. It goes without saying that Richter was authoritative and at times unsurpassed in this repertoire.
Russians are brought up on Scriabin and Rachmaninov as their equivalent of Liszt and Brahms, which may not be such a good trade-off, yet on the other hand a non-Russian can feel shut out of a secret language listening to the dense chromaticism, lack of sonata structure, sweeping fistfuls of notes, and ever-present moodiness that shifts between melancholy and nostalgia. Even Schumann, the most free-form of German piano composers, seems like Bach next to the Russians. Which is to say that I find it hard to warm up to Tchaikovsky's The Seasons, where every month seems lazy and cloudy, or Rachmaninov's Etudes-Tableaux, which sound like a genius told to improvise cocktail lounge music. Even so, Richter is as persuasive as anyone could be, and the eerie slither of Scriabin's "Black Mass" Sonata no. 9 is especially captivating.
It's gratifying that Prokofiev broke the mold with a new piano style marked by precision, sharp wit, intrusions of dissonant violence, and a personal ear for melody. The sonata no. 4, assembled from scrapbooks of previous material that the composer had scribbled down, is more runimative than his usual, but Richter holds the whole piece together through conviction and imagination. He is more traditional (i.e., Rachmaninov-like) than the knife-edged Nikolai Lugansky, who throws shards of glass around in his Prokofiev. Richter is more restrained in the finale, and he takes seriously the instruction that this Allegro should be "con bro" (lively, with spirit) but not light on its feet. I can't say that this particular sonata inspires me, but it clearly inspires Richter. What more can one ask? the recorded sound is good clear stereo, and the piano is a pleasing instrument.