Saturday, July 31, 2010
My favorite pianist is Sviatoslav Richter ('rish-ta'). Unlike most pianists, his repertoire covers everyone from Bach to Berg, Baroque to 20th Century. He premiered several of Prokofiev's piano sonatas and I still think his interpretations are without peer. He learned his craft not through a carefully-constructed career path involving lessons at 3 and tournaments at 7, but rather through playing background piano for operas, ballets and cabaret shows. Subsequently, at his first real lesson his teacher proclaimed him to be a genius. When the celebrated pianist Emil Gilels came to America he would tell interviewers "if you think I'm good, wait till you hear Richter." At the end of his career he was uncomfortable with the role of the performer as star and preferred to perform in the dark with only a single lamp lighting his sheet music. In later years he wanted to bring music "to the people". He played shows in small country towns in Siberia, sometimes in churches (since there were no actual concert halls). He had a piano with him in the back of a truck.
Even though Richter is my favorite pianist, ironically I can't claim him as my favorite Beethoven pianist. His Beethoven is magnificent, and Richter's intention is to be nothing more than a pure conduit between the composer and the listener. Yet, when I hear his recordings I think Richter first and Beethoven second. He never performed all of Beethoven's sonatas (including the Waldstein). Maybe that tells something right there.
Here's a fantastic documentary in two parts, "Richter: The Enigma", Parts 1 and 2 (Directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, 1998). It's basically a 'memory walk' with Richter himself. It's pretty long, each part is 77 minutes long, so set aside a good 2 and a half hours. You can use the controls at the bottom to skip to a part of the program if you want to view it in parts. Or use Keepvid to download the whole thing to your computer. You can use my playlist. But it is one of my favorite documentaries on a pianist (or musician) ever made.