When the great Sviatoslav Richter took the stage carrying his own music and accompanied by a page-turner at this recital at London's Barbican Centre in March 1989, he resembled a distracted John Malkovich -- balding, bespectacled, and bored looking -- so unsuspecting members of the audience might have been forgiven for thinking that they were in for a dull evening. But though he looked like an accountant performing by the light of a small lamp, Richter played like a god.
The three Mozart sonatas that open the concert, the E flat major (K. 282), the C major (K. 545), and the A minor (K. 310), are all poised, polished, and supremely joyous, even the tempestuous A minor Sonata. With a minimum of motion and a maximum of musicianship, Richter creates performances of pellucid beauty. Even better are his two sets of Chopin's etudes, four from Op. 10 (Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 4) and four from Op. 25 (Nos. 5, 6, 8, and 11). After the inwardness of his Mozart performances, the extroverted flamboyance of his Chopin is surprising and staggering. From the gargantuan arpeggios of Op. 10/1 to the thunderous octaves of Op. 25/11, Richter's technique is simply astounding. Though he restricts his movements to what is absolutely necessary, every piece receives a performance executed with supreme virtuosity and filled with soulful poetry. Since Richter detested being filmed and insisted that the cameras not be in his line of sight, the camera angles are slightly skewed but still effective. The three bonus tracks from an October 1969 recital, Rachmaninov's Étude-Tableau, Op. 39/3, and two more of Chopin's Op. 10 Études No. 4 and No. 12, are just as, if not even more, astounding, particularly his faster-than-the-speed-of-light Op. 10/4. Any dedicated Richter fan will want to see these performances.