Many collectors would agree that Sviatoslav Richter was the greatest pianist of the 20th century. His enormous recorded legacy hides hundreds of treasures, many of which are included in this beautiful 51CD set. Released to celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birth (20th March 2015), the edition encompasses his complete Decca, Philips and DG recordings, including his Sofia Recital as well as his collaborations with Rostropovich, Karajan and Benjamin Britten.
This 53-CD set is more than the sum of its parts. While not all the performances and recordings are top-notch, the overall quality is very high and as a historical overview of a label known for its sonic as well as musical merits, it's full of treasures. The Mercury sound at its best is vivid and still sounds remarkable and many of these recordings - such as the marches, show tunes and orchestral showpieces conducted by Frederic Fennell - demonstrate this amply. But it's not all lollipops by any means.
This Collector's Edition presents a challenge to reviewers. There's so much of it. I could never do it any sort of justice if I approached this as if reviewing a smaller set. This, after all, comprises 37 CDs. As it is all I have been able to do is to sample, reminisce about known recordings and write around the subject. With this caveat stated, let's make a start.
There are three principal strands of Britten recordings. These are broadly tied into and defined by record companies, artists and eras. First we have Britten recording Britten for Decca.
Ida Haendel’s sinewy and athletic reading of the often under-rated Britten combines toughness with a cumulative dramatic impetus which is hard to resist. Berglund and the Bournemouth players respond with a terse and argumentative vigour, suitably balanced between resignation and defiant rhetoric, especially in the closing Passacaglia. The Walton Concerto, also dating from 1938-9, is played with an apposite blend of inscrutable panache, as in the irrepressibly brilliant central movement, and elsewhere, a sensuous, if occasionally over-indulgent languor. Rare lapses in the finale can be safely overlooked, in a performance of eloquence and undisputed stature.