Friday, January 13, 2012

Protean Musician

Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations
Sviatoslav Richter: 

Notebooks and Conversations 

“I don’t like pianos, I like music more” - Sviatoslav Richter

A life that was completely immersed in his music, Sviatislov Richter truly was a "protean" artist. The personal voice of Richter conveyed in this amazing volume is as magnetic as his playing (I regret I only know his music through recordings).
On March 19, 1934, Richter gave his first recital, at the Engineers' Club of Odessa; but he did not formally start studying piano until three years later, when he decided to seek out Heinrich Neuhaus, a famous pianist and piano teacher, at the Moscow Conservatory. During Richter's audition for Neuhaus (at which he performed Chopin's Ballade No. 4), Neuhaus apparently whispered to a fellow student, "This man's a genius". Although Neuhaus taught many great pianists, including Emil Gilels and Radu Lupu, it is said that he considered Richter to be "the genius pupil, for whom he had been waiting all his life," while acknowledging that he taught Richter "almost nothing."
Emil Gilels was one of Richter's first advocates in the West. He commented, during his own first tour of the United States, that the critics (who were giving Gilels rave reviews) should "wait until you hear Richter." Richter's first concerts in the West took place in May 1960, when he was allowed to play in Finland, and on October 15, 1960, in Chicago, where he played Brahms's Second Piano Concerto accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Erich Leinsdorf. He created a sensation, and noted Chicago music critic Claudia Cassidy, who was known for her unkind reviews of established artists, recalled Richter first walking on stage hesitantly, looking vulnerable (as if about to be "devoured"), but then sitting at the piano and dispatching "the performance of a lifetime". Richter's 1960 tour of the United States culminated in a series of concerts at Carnegie Hall.
Richter, however, claimed to dislike performing in the United States. He also claimed to dislike the high expectations of American audiences. In 1961, Richter played for the first time in London. His first recital, pairing works of Haydn and Prokofiev, was received with hostility by British critics. Notably, Neville Cardus concluded that Richter's playing was "provincial", and wondered why Richter had been invited to play in London, given that London had plenty of "second class" pianists of its own. Following a July 18, 1961, concert, where Richter performed both of Liszt's piano concertos, the critics reversed course. In 1963, after searching in the Loire Valley, France, for a venue suitable for a music festival, Richter discovered La Grange de Meslay several kilometres north of Tours. The festival was established by Richter and became an annual event. In 1970, Richter visited Japan for the first time traveling across Siberia by railway and boat as he disliked airplanes. He played Beethoven, Schumann, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Bartok and Rachmaninov, as well as works by Mozart and Beethoven with Japanese orchestras. Richter eventually visited Japan a total of eight times. His nomadic existence mirrors the breadth of the music he surveyed and performed over his lifetime.
In this book there are both intimate and interesting portraits of composers and artists, friends of the man who shared the spirit of music with them. Inspirational moments occur on almost every page with Richter's life, at least for this music-lover, becoming more alive with every detail. The book is divided into two sections: "Richter in his own words", and "Notebooks: On Music". I will keep this book near me and my music collection for future reference.

For those interested in recordings made by Sviatoslav Richter there is an excellent article by Gene Gaudette at Musical Concepts.

Sviatoslav Richter: Notebooks and Conversations by Bruno Monsaingeon. Princeton University Press (2001)

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