A Cornucopia Of Great Verdi Singing: Les Introuvables Du Chant Verdien (Rarities Of Verdi Singing)
[August 2001. Originally appeared in La Folia 3:4.]
A cornucopia of great Verdi singing comes in a worthy eight CD package (at bargain price) from EMI (EMI 574 217-2). Following on the heels of its similar compilations of Mozart and Wagner, Les Introuvables du Chant Verdien (Rarities of Verdi Singing) provides 136 excerpts (not 126 as indicated in the accompanying notes) from all of the major Verdi operas and some of the earlier ones in performances of great fascination and generally extraordinary quality from the days of 78 rpm recording. The earliest of these date from the first days of recording in 1903 and the most recent from the mid nineteen-fifties — they span half a century. They provide superb documentation of varied approaches to this music and offer an endlessly fascinating opportunity to hear some of the greatest voices of this period. Some of the most well-known arias appear, fascinatingly, in two or occasionally even three successive performances, providing wide contrasts in style, voice quality, approach and interpretation. These excerpts are organized by opera. Those who might be put off by the thought of suffering through scratchy, faintly audible relics from the dawn of the twentieth century should be reassured. The sound emanating from these beautifully remastered sources is astonishing — I have never heard discs dating from as early as 1903 sound so vivid, so alive, so listenable — and so exciting — as some of these. For once, they make it possible to enjoy the individual color and quality of the voices, avoiding the homogeneous squeaks and squawks of so many poor dubbings of early recordings. Keith Hardwick, who made a labor of love of restoring the gems hidden in EMI’s vaults, has done a superlative job of remastering. The more recent performances, of course, are in really fine sound. Occasional surface noise slightly diminishes the impact of an early performance, but in general this is not a problem here. The list of artists involved is stellar indeed.
Highlights of the first CD include the great Boris Christoff as Silva in “Che mai vegg’io! Infelice! Infin che un brando vindice” from Act I of Ernani. Christoff is powerful, resonant and commanding — this is great Verdi singing dating from 1951. Also of interest are the Italian baritone Giuseppe Kaschmann, fluent and spirited in “O de’ verd’anni miei” from Act III of Ernani recorded in 1903, and the baritone Benvenuto Franci in the same aria. The even greater baritone Mattia Battistini rings out over the orchestra and (primitively recorded) chorus in the Act III “O sommo Carlo” from Ernani.
From Il Trovatore there are several gems. Giannina Arangi-Lombardi sings a lovely “Tacea la notte placida,” recorded in 1927 and Francesco Tamagno’s ringing, powerful seamless tenor graces the Act I “Deserto sulla terra” recorded in 1903 with piano accompaniment in surprisingly good sound. Tamagno sang Otello at the opera’s first performance in 1887, and he is one of the greatest of tenor voices. Two fine Azucenas follow — Fedora Barbieri’s 1949 recording of “Stride la vampa!” and Margarete Klose’s 1937 “Condotta ell’era in ceppi” sung in German, which pays great attention to detail and is terrifying. The elegant, well-focused voice of Charles Dalmores appears in an aristocratic “Ah, si, ben mio” (with a perfect trill), recorded in 1907. Two performances of the challenging “Di quella pira” follow — the first sung by César Vezzani in 1929, the second a classic performance by the young Jussi Bjoerling in 1939. This is glorious singing!
Three versions of Leonora’s aria “D’amor sull’ali rosee” follow. The first, by Emmy Destinn, is a grand, heroic interpretation dating from 1916, the second, by Frida Leider, is sung in German and brings a warm, womanly Leonora sung with deep feeling and superb technique. The third, by the clarion-voiced Eva Turner, dates from 1928 (with Sir Thomas Beecham conducting). The three performances provide fascinating differences in approach and style and are well worth hearing. The disc concludes with an exciting 1940 rendering of “Ai nostri monti” by Beniamino Gigli and Cloe Elmo — great Verdi here.
The second CD features excerpts from Macbeth and Rigoletto, opening with Martha Mödl’s dramatically involved, commanding performance of Lady Macbeth’s “La luce langue” (sung here in German), recorded in 1951. This is followed by Caruso’s passionately sung “O figli, o figli miei! Ah la paterna mano” and then Margherita Grandi, a somewhat under-recorded artist, noble, rich-voiced and dramatic in a marvelous “Una macchia e qui tuttora!” from 1948. These three Macbeth excerpts are much worth hearing.
From Rigoletto, there is a delightful “Questa o quella” sung by Alfred Piccaver in 1912, in which obtrusive 78 rpm surface hiss does not obscure the beautiful voice and fine legato. Tito Gobbi’s “Pari siamo!” recorded in 1950 is incomparable — a truly great example of Verdi performance — magnificent of voice, dramatically charged and subtle in its attention to detail. Two really fine performances of Gilda’s “Caro nome” are very much worth hearing despite obtrusive surface noise, the first by Lydia Lipkowska, one of the great Russian singers of the day, dating from 1914, the second, unfortunately with even more surface hiss, superbly sung by the great Maria Ivogün, later the teacher of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, with lovely phrasing, airy trills and beautifully floated high notes. From 1919 comes a moving “Cortigiani, vil razza damnata” by Joseph Schwarz, the great German baritone of the nineteen-tens and twenties, with fine legato and dramatic involvement and from 1909, the same aria sung by Pasquale Amato in a vividly expressive performance that recalls the high art of Gobbi.
Two very different performances of “Tutte le feste” follow. The first of these by Olimpia Boronat, from 1908, brings a deeply imaginative, intensely personal rendition far from the usual mere display of coloratura; the second by Lotte Schöne, with characteristic refinement, sweetness and firm control (recorded in 1927), with Herbert Janssen’s mellifluous Rigoletto joining her in “Piangi, fanciulla.” A wonderful, ringing “La donna è mobile” comes from Enrico Caruso, the voice as recorded in 1908 fresh and opulent. Then we have a 1927 Quartet (“Bella figlia dell’amore”) with four of the Metropolitan Opera’s great stars of the day — Beniamino Gigli a lyrical Duke, Louise Homer as Maddalena, Amelita Galli-Curci as Gilda and Giuseppe de Luca as Rigoletto, and a 1908 recording of the final duet “O mia Gilda Lassù in ciel” with the great Tita Ruffo as a dark, dramatic Rigoletto and the lovely Gilda of Graziella Pareto. Ruffo’s voice quality so often resembles that of Tito Gobbi.
The third CD features excerpts from Simon Boccanegra and La Traviata. It opens with a real rarity, the Prologue to Boccanegra, “A te l’estremo addio Il lacerato spirito,” sung by Francesco Navarrini with piano accompaniment recorded in 1907. Navarrini was an elegant bass with a steady, supple, smooth voice, who, unfortunately, made few recordings. Then, in a remarkably different interpretation of great intensity lasting more than a full minute longer, the great Alexander Kipnis, recorded in 1931, performs the same aria.
Early in the twentieth century, some of the best singing in Europe was to be heard in the opera houses of Moscow and St Petersburg. Two of the finest Russian sopranos offer Violetta’s “Ah fors’è lui” from La Traviata — first the great Antonina Nezhdanova (singing in Russian with piano accompaniment) brings her fresh, young-sounding voice, admirable technique, intelligence and feeling. Then Maria Kousnezoff in a slower performance with a fine, individual style, sings the same aria, boldly dramatic in its cabaletta, “Sempre libera.” There is some obtrusive surface noise here. The renowned Italian coloratura soprano Luisa Tetrazzini provides a third performance of “A fors’è lui” with the added “Follie!” and cabaletta “Sempre libera.” Recorded in 1911, this brings fabulous technique and phenomenal top notes. Fernando de Lucia, caught in 1906 with piano accompaniment, provides some stunning pianissimos in an intensely personal performance of “De’ miei bollenti spiriti.” There is some record hiss here. Then in a lovely eighteen minute segment from Act II, Rolando Panerai and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf bring us “Maddamigella Valery? Pura siccome un angelo Ditte alle giovine” from 1953. It is interesting to hear Schwarzkopf in this repertory which she soon thereafter abandoned (ostensibly after hearing Maria Callas’ great Violetta for the first time). Also here is an immensely vivid, exciting performance of the Act II “Che fai? Nulla scrivevi?” sung in German by Helge Roswaenge as Alfredo and Maria Cebotari as Violetta. The ill-fated Cebotari died at thirty-nine at the height of her powers.
From 1911 comes one of the greatest Verdi baritones, Mattia Battistini, singing with superb technique and fine legato in the Act II “Mio figlio Di Provenza” in surprisingly fine sound for the date. Finally, we are offered an intensely passionate, dramatic, personal performance of “Teneste la promessa Addio, del passato” by the inimitable Claudia Muzio, from 1935.
The fourth CD brings arias from Nabucco and La Forza del Destino, beginning with Nazzareno de Angelis as Zaccaria in the Act I “Sperate, o figli” from Nabucco, dating from 1928 and in fine sound.
From La Forza del Destino comes an embarras de richesse beginning with a powerful 1929 rendition of Leonora’s Act I aria “Ma pellegrina ed orfana” by Gina Cigna, followed by Celestina Boninsegna’s Act II “Madre, pietosa Vergine” from 1906, sung with exceptional beauty and deep feeling. The same aria is sung passionately, with steely brilliance, by Dusolina Giannini, recorded in 1928. The rich bass of Ivar Andresen and the versatile soprano of Meta Seinemeyer (who died tragically at the age of thirty-four) grace “Chi può legger nel futuro” sung in German. A highlight here is “Alzatevi La Vergine degli Angeli” in a stunning 1928 performance by Ezio Pinza and Rosa Ponselle in fine, spacious sound — great Verdi singing! Francesco Merli brings his powerful, vibrant tenor to “O tu che in seno agli angeli,” recorded in 1927, while Caruso and Antonio Scotti excel in “Solenne in quest’ora” which, though it dates from 1906, is in surprisingly clear sound. The superb, unforced baritone of Heinrich Schlusnus, effortlessly produced, is heard in “Morir! Urna fatale E salvo” sung in German in 1928. Though the surface is slightly scratchy, the sound is fine. Zinka Milanov presents a fine “Pace, pace, mio Dio” from 1946 and, finally, there is great Verdi singing from Ezio Pinza, Rosa Ponselle and Giovanni Martinelli in “Non imprecare” in gratifyingly good sound from 1928.
CD 5 contains excerpts from Don Carlo and I vespri siciliani beginning with the great duet “E lui Dio, que nell’alma” from Act I of Don Carlo, sung by Giuseppe de Luca and Giovanni Martinelli, a bit slowly but with smooth style and musicality, if not the highest drama. An extended excerpt — almost thirteen minutes long — brings great Verdi singing from the powerful, authoritative bass of Boris Christoff and the exciting dramatic baritone of Tito Gobbi in the 1954 “Restate.” This is truly magnificent, dramatically charged Verdi singing. (I had the pleasure of hearing Gobbi, Christoff and Jussi Bjoerling sing a spectacular Don Carlo at the Chicago Lyric Opera years ago — it was an unforgettable performance.)
An early recording from 1907 presents the great French bass Pol Plançon in “Où suis-je? Je dormerai dans mon manteau royal,” sung in French, with beautiful tone and stylistic authority. Plançon was one of the great singers of the Golden Age, and he is wonderful here. Deeply moving, overwhelmingly powerful singing comes from Boris Christoff’s classic recording of King Philip’s “Ella giammai m’amò! Dormirò so!” recorded in 1950 in superb sound, capturing every nuance of Christoff’s highly characterizing performance. This is priceless — some of the greatest Verdi singing ever! Frida Leider offers a rare “O don fatale,” also sung by the rich contralto of Clara Butt. Although the latter recording dates from 1915-16, the powerful voice comes through with all its authority. Tito Gobbi is immediately recognizable, ringing and passionate in not easily surpassed performances of “Convien qui dirci addio Per me giunto” and “O Carlo ascolta io morrò” in excellent 1942 sound. A discovery for me here is a moving performance of “Tu che le vanità” by Hertha Stolzenberg, a name that is new to me, in a 1922 recording with amazingly good sound.
From I vespri siciliani, Boris Christoff is heard in “O tu Palermo” — superb performance and sound, dating from 1952. Riccardo Stracciari displays his fine legato in the 1909 “In braccia alle dovizie,” while Helge Roswaenge brings fiery energy and emotional commitment along with brilliant top notes to Arrigo’s aria “Giorno di pianto,” sung in German.
CD 6 presents excerpts from I Lombardi (or Jérusalem in its later reworking by Verdi) as well as Aida. It opens with a famous recording that dates from 1903 but is so amazingly vivid that it almost leaps off the disc. Léon Escalaïs, archetype of the heroic tenor, is in seamless voice singing with astonishing power in “Je veux encore entendre” from Jérusalem, his top C sharps sung with breathtaking ease. A discovery for me is the fine, steady bass of Paul Payan in “Grâce, mon Dieu! O jour fatal,” recorded in 1910. The trio “Or non più Qual volutta trascorrere” has the ringing voices of Elisabeth Rethberg, Beniamino Gigli and Ezio Pinza.
From Aida there is a fine “Celeste Aida” sung in French by Paul Franz with lyrical grace as well as power. The same aria is sung in German by Helge Roswaenge with great feeling and bright resonance in an excellent 1940 recording. Giannina Russ sings “Ritorna vincitor” with beautifully even tone, exciting quality and real power in 1905 (with piano accompaniment) in a fine-sounding recording marred only by some record hiss. The firm tone and sensitive musicianship of Florence Austral, one of the great Wagner singers of the day, are heard in the same aria recorded in 1927. This is a gem. From 1908 comes Emmy Destinn’s poignantly urgent “O patria mia” and from 1924 the Nile duet sung with great fervor and beautiful tone by Giovanni Martinelli and Rosa Ponselle — a memorable performance. Ebe Stignani’s richly sung “Ohime! morir me sento” dates from 1946. Her Amneris has grand style and a firm voice. The disc closes with Caruso and Johanna Gadski, better known as a Wagnerian soprano, in the final duet “O terra, addio.” Though this was recorded in 1909, the individual quality of the voices comes through beautifully; Gadski’s hauntingly quiet interpretation is truly affecting.
The seventh CD opens with two excerpts from the early I due Foscari, followed by seventeen from Otello. Riccardo Stracciari as the Doge in I due Foscari sings “O vecchio cor” (recorded in 1906 with piano accompaniment) with a pure legato that is a model of such things. His voice production is superb and he shapes the melodic line with an extraordinary sense of light and shade — a great performance, this. Another great baritone, Pasquale Amato, brings a ringing voice and great authority to the Doge’s “Questa dunque” recorded in 1909. Despite the limitations of horn recording, the voices shine through.
From Otello, we open with the authoritative Iago of Apollo Granforte in the Act I “Qua ragazzi Inaffia l’ugola!” recorded in 1931. The impassioned Act I love duet is sung by Meta Seinemeyer and Tino Pattiera. Seinemeyer’s ability to move her audiences deeply brought her an enormous following. Her musicality is evident here, but Pattiera is a slightly squally Otello. Cesare Formichi is a menacing Iago in the Credo, recorded in 1927, and José Luccioni is a bright-voiced Otello in a 1948 performance of the Act II “Tu! Indietro Ora e per sempre” sung , surprisingly, in French (with the recording faded out at the end). Three years later, in 1951, Mario del Monaco recorded this music in its original Italian — an urgent, intense, less elegant performance. Both renditions are beautifully sung. Lawrence Tibbett was a famous Iago, and his “Era la notte,” recorded in 1939, is a classic performance that carefully observes Verdi’s score markings more than most and brings supreme musicianship and superb voice. The partnership of Giovanni Zenatello as Otello and Pasquale Amato as Iago is a deservedly renowned one. They appear here in a 1909 “Si pel ciel” from Act II. Singing in German in 1930, Lauritz Melchior (probably the greatest Wagnerian heldentenor of all time) provides a passionate, heroic Otello in “Dio! Mi potevi scagliar” from Act III. The same scene is sung in Italian by Renato Zanelli, whose Otello is more intensely “acted.” This is a very human Otello, and one immediately feels the tortured man here. Zanelli’s rich voice and haunted interpretation are memorable. In Francesco Tamagno’s “Niun mi tema” recorded in 1903, we hear (with piano accompaniment) the death of Otello sung by the tenor who first created the rôle at the work’s première in 1887. Tamagno’s classic performance, sung slowly with great passion and intensity, projects the character’s nobility; his voice is seamless, his interpretation deeply moving. Here is a truly tragic Otello of heroic stature.
And then come the Desdemonas! From 1924 there is a spirited, moving, passionate Willow Song by the young Lotte Lehmann, in splendid voice, singing in German, followed by a performance of the same music by Yvonne Gall, singing in French in 1931. She sings beautifully, though she lacks the vulnerability of Lehmann. The soft-grained exquisite “Ave Maria” of Tiana Lemnitz from 1938 follows. This is warm, lovely, lyrical singing.
CD 8 contains excerpts from Luisa Miller, Un Ballo in Maschera and Falstaff. The bass Tancredi Pasero opens with “Ah! Tutto m’arride il mio sangue” from Luisa Mille,r in a richly sung, tasteful performance displaying his characteristic rapid vibrato and evenness of voice throughout its range. In “Oh! Fede negar potessi Quando le sere al placido,” the ringing tenor Giuseppe Anselmi provides an exquisite performance, one in which superb phrasing is allied to fine musicianship. This dates from 1907 and is sung with piano accompaniment. The same aria is sung by Aureliano Pertile in 1927 in an excitingly vital performance.
From Un Ballo in Maschera, Irene Mingine-Cattaneo provides a fine Ulrica, with a rich and warm voice in “Zitti l’incanto Re dell’abisso,” recorded in 1930. Eugenia Burzio turns in a vibrant performance as Emilia in her 1906 “Ma dall’arido stelo” with piano accompaniment. Even better is Hina Spani’s intensely individual, stunning 1927 performance of the aria, marred only by a cut in the middle of the aria. A 1930 performance of Amelia’s “Morrò, ma primia in grazia” is stylishly sung by Elisabeth Rethberg with pure tone and fine musicianship. A real treat is the incomparable Oscar of Selma Kurz, whose “Saper vorreste” was recorded in 1907. Despite the great age of the recording, Kurz’s phenomenal coloratura, limpid sound, great charm and nonpareil trill shine forth beautifully. She shamelessly (and magnificently) decorates the vocal line with her own cadenzas and added high notes. A truly amazing and unsurpassable performance! The Spanish tenor Antonio Cortis had a honeyed, passionate, elegant voice, and he sings with great spontaneity in a fine “Forse la soglia attinse Ma se m’è forza perderti” from 1923.
Excerpts from Falstaff complete the disc. Mariano Stabile was the classic Falstaff of the century, and his 1924 Honor monologue is his first recording of the music. His voice is beautiful, his phrasing a delight in a notable performance. Antonio Magini-Coletti follows as Falstaff, with Elisa Petri as Alice (with piano accompaniment) in a fine 1905 “Alfin, t’ho colto Quand’ero paggio.” Magini-Coletti’s charm and gaiety enliven the rendition. Victor Maurel created the rôle of Flastaff at its premiere and recorded the same aria in 1907. His delightful performance is applauded by the small recording studio audience and then repeated twice more! Stabile returns for a later 1949 recording of “Ehi! Taverniere,” still with fine diction and phrasing. Tito Schipa’s light tenor graces “Da labbro il canto” from 1921. Finally, the always charming Toti dal Monte sings Nanetta’s “Sul fil d’un soffio etesio,” beautifully floating its top notes in a beguiling 1929 rendition.
This is a treasurable set, containing hours of great singing. It is also a bargain. I have mentioned the highlights of the collection, some of them obviously dated in sound but nonetheless providing great pleasure. Many, however, are in amazingly fine sound, and all are well worth hearing. There are, of course, other excerpts in the set, which, though well sung, I have not mentioned here. Les Introuvables du Chant verdien is a highly desirable acquisition, then, that should repay many hours of repeated listening.
THE HYPERION SCHUMANN SONG EDITION — VOLUME FOUR
The Hyperion Complete Edition of The Songs of Robert Schumann follows on the heels of its unprecedented Schubert Lieder Edition, one of the great projects of recording history, and bids fair to match it in quality. I have previously reviewed the first three volumes in this ongoing Schumann series (La Folia, Vol. 2, no. 3).
We seem, surprisingly, to be in a golden age of lieder singing. I say “surprisingly” because the retirement of first Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and then Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, both of whom dominated the world of the lied for so many years, seemed to signal the end of a great era. The graying of the audience at lieder recitals only seemed to further this perception, and for a while there I feared for the future of the form. But a whole new generation of fine practitioners of the art has arisen, and every month seems to bring new names to prominence. To this growing list must now be added the names of Oliver Widmer, the fine Swiss baritone, and Stella Doufexis, the excellent German mezzo-soprano, both of whom contribute to the success of this fourth volume of Schumann songs. Both Widmer and Doufexis studied with Fischer-Dieskau and have carved out successful careers in Europe.
This fourth volume, CDJ 33104, again presents the later songs of Schumann, most of them not well known, along with songs of his wife Clara, and it becomes clear that Clara more than holds her own in the five of her songs included here. (She composed twenty-nine songs in all, and this Schumann series will eventually encompass them all.) Graham Johnson, whose generous notes are a model of such things, is again the outstanding accompanist. To round out a fascinating disc, the London Schubert Chorale sings unaccompanied part songs of Schumann most mellifluously.
Although as many as twelve poets are represented in these thirty-one songs, a majority of them (eighteen songs and part songs) are set to poems of Rückert . A high point is the cycle of twelve songs to poems from Rückert’s “Liebesfrühling” set to music by both Robert and Clara Schumann. The three by Clara, interestingly, seem to trump Robert’s songs in their greater inspiration. They are sung with freshness and conviction by Doufexis. She brings genuine passion to the turbulent song “Der Himmel hat eine Träne geweint” (“Heaven shed a tear”), as well as a lovely lyrical flow to “Liebst du um Schönheit” (“If you love for beauty”) and a warm sweetness and directness of expression to “Warum willst du and’re fragen?” (“Why enquire of others?”). Hers is a fine voice, seemingly artless in its fresh warmth and, best of all, she seems to get to the heart of every song she sings.
Widmer’s warm baritone is ideal for his songs, and his careful attention to words is meritorious. Particularly charming are the three duets that make up these “Liebesfrühling” songs. They are sung to perfection by the two soloists with superb accompaniment by Johnson. Widmer is beautifully expressive in the songs he sings alone. His command of phrasing and great intelligence, along with an intrinsically beautiful voice, make his contributions truly distinctive.
There are many other songs on the disc that repay repeated listening. “Volksliedchen” (“Folksong”), a song of simple grace and economy of means, is a delight as sung by Doufexis. Widmer brings great understanding and sensitivity to the three “Romanzen und Balladen ” from Opus 45. The first of these, “Der Schatzgräber” (“The Treasure-seeker”), to a poem of Eichendorff, is a parable about greed, sung with real dramatic power by Widmer and played to perfection by Johnson. The contrasting “Frühlingsfahrt” (“A Spring Journey”) — also to a poem of Eichendorff — is given a hearty masculinity by Widmer, who brings real individuality to his fine interpretation. The third of these, “Abends am Strand” (“Evenings by the Sea”), to a poem of Heinrich Heine, is an extraordinary ballad whose word painting Widmer beautifully adumbrates.
With fascinating songs that repay repeated listening, really fine performances from two exciting artists of whom we will undoubtedly hear much more, excellent accompaniments from the always reliable Graham Johnson, and fine choral work in the part songs, this is an admirable entry in the ongoing Hyperion Schumann Song Edition. Don’t miss it!
(P.S. Volume Five has recently appeared and will be reviewed here soon.)
THE ART OF SVIATOSLAV RICHTER
A gem of a recording appears in the Philips 50 collection of great recordings of the last fifty years (Philips 289 464 710-2). Sviatoslav Richter offers the two Franz Liszt piano concertos — No. 1 in E flat major and No. 2 in A major in brilliant performances recorded in 1961 with masterfully forceful conducting by Kirill Kondrashin and superb playing by the London Symphony Orchestra. Here is a bravura performance by one of the great masters of the piano — with immense power in the more extrovert passages, pianissimos of the most incredible delicacy, an unsurpassed technique and a perfect sense of the overall structure of these works. The partnership of Richter and Kondrashin could not be bettered. Furthermore, the remastering, using 24 bit technology, has improved the originally fine sound and made this a superlative recording with extraordinary definition. It is not easy to believe that the original tape source is forty years old — the rich, resonant, refulgent sound seems to match any present day recording.
Three Beethoven piano sonatas recorded in 1963 round out the release — No. 10 in G major, Op. 14, no. 2; No. 19 in G minor, Op. 49, no. 1; and No. 20 in G major, Op. 49, no. 2. These are among the most intimate of the thirty-two Beethoven piano sonatas. Richter is masterful — his complete grasp of the overall structure of these works is everywhere manifest, as is his scrupulous attention to musical detail. There is a marvelously fresh improvisatory quality to the playing — it is almost as if Richter were composing the music as he plays. Performances as fine and full of understanding as these are rare. Again, the remastered sound is superb. In every way, then, this is a CD not to be missed. Pounce!