Richter the Enigma: The Long-Awaited DVD

Review by: Jed Distler


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 7

Thanks to Idéale Audience, Bruno Monsaingeon’s fascinating 1998 documentary film Richter the Enigma finally appears on DVD formatted for Region One playback. Sviatoslav Richter may have been depressed and laconic in his last years, yet he relates events from his life to the camera with disarming frankness and sly humor, whether disparaging his remarkable memory for names, showing an understated yet clear contempt for political intrigues, discussing the challenges of accompanying Fischer-Dieskau, or giving a vividly succinct portrait of his pianistic colleague and rival Maria Yudina.

Still, you sense that Richter preferred to let his music-making speak for itself, and more than 50 performance excerpts reveal the intensity, concentration, and commitment he brought to every note he played. This applies both to the younger, febrile Richter we see tearing up the finale of Prokofiev’s Fifth Concerto and the C-sharp minor Chopin Etude Op. 10 No. 4 and to his older, more austere counterpart in 1986, playing from score and illuminated by a single lamp.

In addition to a wealth of archival footage and even an extract from a feature film in which Richter stars as Liszt, Monsaingeon fills in gaps with skillfully deployed still photographs and home movies that enhance and contextualize Richter’s narrative. In fact, the only awkward moment (apart from Richter’s much discussed last line “I do not like myself”) is a clip of Glenn Gould for which Monsaingeon dubs in the missing voice track. Yet the pacing and sensitive editing has a natural and gripping flow that makes the film seem far shorter than its nearly three-hour playing time across two well-indexed DVDs. General audiences and the pianist’s most ardent fans will find Richter the Enigma equally engrossing.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:


Works by Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, Bach, Wolf, and others

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