The two key elements of Richter's vision of the history of music are the reduction of the sonata form to a scheme for improvisation and the dispersion of the overall form in the lyrical notation.
Sviatoslav Richter throws himself with dizzying voluptuousness into Brahms' Concerto No. 2, considering it as a rhapsody of lyrical themes and playing on a continuous search for sound variety and enormous speed differences to destroy the unifying element represented by the basic time.
In this regard it is sufﬁcient to indicate a typical moment of Richter's interpretation: the beginning. Brahms indicated Allegro non troppo and the ﬁgure of metronome 92.
The metronomic time is only indicative and indeed no director and no soloist maintain the same speed in the four episodes that constitute a kind of introduction before the orchestra alone attacks the real exposure: 1) the horn solo with the echo response of the piano; 2) the melancholic theme exposed by the instruments with the intervention of the strings; 3) the impetuous and dramatic entrance of the solo piano; 4) the cadence of the piano, in octaves and chords, during which the thematic engraving already exposed by the horn appears. No one keeps the same speed, but everyone worries about not making too large a difference between one episode and another. The difference between Richter's minimum and maximum speed is double: from 56 to 116. I recall that there is a term, Doppio movimento , not unusual, which indicates a double speed difference. With Richter we are still in the differences that can be expressed with the caption Allegro non troppo by Brahms? Or do we rather pass from a quiet Andante (56) to a decisive Allegro (116)? The same dilation of extremes occurs within sentences, as well as between episodes. For example, while the ﬁrst three quarters of the ﬁrst measure ﬂuctuate slightly around 56, with a minimum gap that falls within the Brahmsian style of interpretation of our day, in the last quarter of the ﬁrst bar (the horn triplet) the metronome value is decidedly modiﬁed: 48. And so on, from the dramatically passionate restlessness of the ﬁrst movement to the emotional excitement of the second, to the dreamy duet in crescendo between cello and pianoforte of the third, up to the unusual air of gaiety of the fourth.
His 1960 recording with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Erich Leinsdorf is extraordinary and rightly famous (won the Best Classical Performance at the Grammy Awards in 1961). Its enormous emotional tension approaches Brahms to Dvorák, to Ciaicovsky, to Rachmaninov, to musicians who take from a foreign culture a parched and exhausted pattern, the sonata form, and they use it as a net to hold together many melodies that could very well have remained separate.
The composer at the piano, by Willy von Beckerath.
Sviatoslav Richter plays Brahms Concerto in B ﬂat major N. 2 Op. 83 Chicago Symphony Orchestra Enrich Leinsdorf
Part 1 Allegro non troppo
Part 2 Allegro appassionato
Part 3 Andante
Part 4 Allegretto grazioso