[lit-ideas] Pictures at an Exhibition

  • From: Eric Yost <eyost1132@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Thu, 12 Oct 2006 16:00:18 -0400

Chris Bruce mentioned the Horowitz arrangement of Pictures at an Exhibition. I'd like to call his attention to Sviatoslav Richter's live 1958 recording of the work, which puts Horowitz in the shade. There's a description of it in an obituary essay in the New Criterion.

[extract of http://www.newcriterion.com/archive/16/oct97/coleman.htm]

Thanks to “live” recording, we have evidence of Richter’s concentration during the most trying of circumstances—almost a laboratory demonstration of this capability within him, if you will. It occurred at the infamous Richter recital given in Sofia, Bulgaria, in 1958, and now newly reissued on a Philips CD. The program was par for the course, that is, for Richter. He opened the program with the very daunting Pictures at an Exhibition, of Modest Mussorgsky, in its original version for piano. After the intermission, he played works of Schubert, Chopin, and Liszt. What makes these performances unusual is the physical condition of the audience: Sofia was plagued by a flu epidemic, and the coughing during the performance of Pictures is well nigh unbearable. As the work progresses, one senses Richter driving himself inward. The more they cough, it would seem, the more demonic and unsettling the performance. This recording, along with his hypnotic Schumann recital on Deutsche Grammophon (above all the Forest Scenes and the Fantasy Pieces), might be a good place to start a new generation listening to Richter’s art. He was a great pianist, of course, but he was also beyond category, or, as Le Monde put it, “Richter was unique because he was a bit crazy and a bit of an idealist.”

And what about the piano version that started it all? Although there had been others, it was a recording of an extraordinary 1958 Sviatoslav Richter recital in Sofia, Bulgaria (Philips 464 734) that refocused public attention on the merit of the original. Intense, full of nuance, supremely poised and Russian to the core, Richter's masterful performance fully vindicated Mussorgsky's work as a masterpiece in its own right, without need of translation, embellishment or improvement.

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