Review by: Jed Distler
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 5
Praga’s first release in a series of SACD remasterings devoted to Sviatoslav Richter and Rachmaninov’s music restores the great pianist’s 1955 First concerto and 1959 Second concerto collaborations with Kurt Sanderling. Although collectors may know these performances via previous CD incarnations, Praga’s treatment radically transforms the dynamically constricted and timbrally murky mono originals. As a consequence, the strings and woodwinds gain new-found warmth, presence, and definition, and previously masked soft timpani strokes make themselves felt, while Richter’s piano is equalized to brighter effect.
Pianistically speaking, Richter is at the top of his game in the First concerto, and his lean, incisive approach imparts a taut edge to the busy keyboard textures, especially at the finale’s outset and in the first movement’s daunting cadenza. Collectors familiar with Richter’s celebrated DG recording of the Second concerto will find similarities not only in the pianist’s monumental yet hypnotically sustained first-movement tempos, but also in his wonderful long-lined legato phrasing in the second movement and dazzling fingerwork in the third. However, DG’s infinitely superior sound wins the day.
Praga’s booklet notes credit the four incandescently-played Rachmaninov Preludes from Carnegie Hall to Richter’s October 28, 1960 recital. They’re actually the December 26, 1960 Carnegie performances—RCA released the full recital as a two-disc set in 2001 (Richter Rediscovered). Praga’s transfers slightly tone down the audience coughs, but I prefer RCA’s fuller equalization. The French booklet notes also appear in a hapless English translation.
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Recording Details:Reference Recording: Op. 1: Janis/Reiner (RCA); Op. 1: Zimerman/Ozawa (DG); Op. 1: Hough/Litton (Hyperion); Op. 18: Katchen/Solti (Decca); Op. 18: Richter/Rowicki (DG)
- RACHMANINOV, SERGEI:Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor Op. 1; Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op. 18; Prelude Op. 23 No. 1; Preludes Op. 32 Nos. 9, 10, & 12