Brahms: Piano Concerto No. 2, Piano Sonata No. 1
Americans had only vague hints of the mighty virtuosity of Sviatoslav Richter before a thaw in the Cold War's chill allowed the Russian pianist to travel to the States in 1960 for a concert tour, at the behest of legendary impresario Sol Hurok. After a brief stop in New York, he was off to Chicago for a performance of Brahms's massive Second Concerto with Erich Leinsdorf conducting (Leinsdorf filled in at the last minute for Fritz Reiner, the Chicago Symphony's head maestro at the time, who was ill). Richter's command of the taxing score and his muscular technique, leavened by a keen poetic sensitivity, dumbfounded listeners. Thankfully, RCA had its microphones ready for a recording session that took place within days of the concert, and the resulting LP became an instant classic. Repackaged here at a bargain price in RCA's Classic Library collection, Richter's performance has lost none of its potency: from the opening bars, with the singing horn solo buttressed by deep rumbles in the piano, to the thorny Scherzo (astonishingly recorded in one take), the lyrical Andante, and the dancing finale. Leon Fleisher's and Rudolf Serkin's recordings of this titan, among others, are justly celebrated, yet none matches Richter for awe-inspiring strength and sheer visceral thrills. A later 1988 recording of Brahms's First Sonata makes a valuable addition to this indispensable reissue.