Not another centenary, this is the greatest musician at the piano

Not another centenary, this is the greatest musician at the piano


norman lebrecht

March 19, 2015

Amid all the tributes that will mark tomorrow’s centenary of the birth of Sviatoslav Richter, none will find the right adjective to go before the noun ‘pianist’. Richter was unlike any pianist before or since, so much so that the very term pianist distorts and belittles the essence of his being.

Valery Gergiev once told me that there was no Russian opera or orchestral work, no matter how obscure or long-unperformed, that Richter did not know. Richter was a walking Wikipedia of music, with an infallible taste that weeded out the gems from the dross and with an authority that was irrefutable. As music director of the Mariinksy, Gergiev called him often for guidance.

Richter knew the piano repertoire from Bach to Britten, the symphonic canon in its entirety and a vast range of salon and art songs that he played with great relish with his life’s companion, Nina Dorliak.


But when he sat at the piano, all on his own, Richter was all forms in one. He was the complete musician.


After Franz Liszt, was there ever a greater musician at the piano?


There will never be another Richter (March 20 1915 – August 1, 1997).


  • john humphreys says:

    For me…the greatest pianist…ever.

  • Milka says:

    It is a pleasant trip down memory lane , but spare us a little , or he soon will be seen to walk on water . He was but a performer however good , and leaves nothing but memories
    for those that heard and admired him . There will not be another Ysaye , another Heifetz
    another Kreisler another Paderewski , de Pachmann , and on and on . I thought infallibility
    was part of church dogma and doubt knowing what we know of Mr. Richter that he
    would have considered himself the infallible pope of music.

  • Lysandros Lysandrou says:

    …there will never be another pianist like him in my view….a true philosopher of the piano although even that does not do him full justice…i was lucky enough to see him in live performance almost 25 times and each concert remains indelibly imprinted in my memory…such a mercurial, ‘bel canto’ touch, such thunderous power combined with the most delicate phrasing and infinite shades of colour…one was always surprised in his concerts and it always felt like one was hearing the piece for the 1st time…that global, birds-eye view of the work….one felt one was being taken by the hand and led along a path of discovery…it really felt like that…i will take those memories with me to my grave…

    • Stephen Harding says:

      I absolutely agree with Lysandros (I remember meeting you at the concert in Tours when he played the Beethoven Concerto No.1 with Eschenbach, it all seems so recent and yet it’s already 27 years ago). I also saw Richter about 25 times from 1986 to 1993 and his concerts still live on in the memory all these years later. I love his recordings but none of them fully captures the range of Richter’s sound and the almost mystical aura in one of his recitals. The Schubert D894 from St.James’s Church in Piccadilly was of such an intensity that I could barely walk in a straight line afterwards. I have yet to hear a pianist who has the same dynamic range – the c sharp minor middle section of Schubert’s Wanderer Fantasy at the RFH in 1993 had some of the most amazingly fast, quiet and legato playing I have ever experienced and Richter was 78 years old at the time.There are so many recordings but my particular favourites include the Ravel Miroirs on Praga, Scriabin Sonata No.5 also on Praga, Prokofiev Sonata No.4 on Philips (from London RFH 1989). Let us celebrate one of the greatest re-creative artists of all time!

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Wonderful videos here!! Thanks for sharing!

  • Gregor Tassie says:

    Richter was a genius, and yet not enough people know how really great he was, please try to listen to his playing and most important his artistry on Friday 20th March. He was the greatest artist of the last century.

  • Shalom Rackovsky says:

    The absolute embodiment of musical greatness. His technique was beyond belief, but display was absolutely irrelevant in his life. He was indescribable- one of the great experiences of one’s musical life is to have actually seen him perform.

  • Hilary says:

    Richter was commendably curious about contemporary music (Xenakis and Kagel get favourable mentions in the notebooks) which tends not to be the case with artists of his stature. Most are rather reactionary and naive. Cherkassky was another exception in this respect.

  • Charles Timbrell says:

    He was a giant, and my only real piano idol for decades. What colourism matched with spontaneity, and above all in Schumann, Rachmaninoff, and much Chopin and Debussy!

  • Adam says:

    Anton Kuerti always goes overlooked. But happy birthday Svi!

  • Erwin Poelstra says:

    A unique musician, a bright light who *eclipsed* most other great pianists of his generation. We were very lucky that he apparently didn’t have a talent for conducting (unlike some other great pianists) so that he kept his pianistic shape well into old age.

  • Fabio Luisi says:

    I saw him very often when I was student in Genoa, he cam every year for a recital. Once he played the entire “Preludes and Fugues” by Shostakovich (a fantastic, incredible work), work and performance remained impressed in my memory.
    He had something which not many musicians have today: curiosity, and was never afraid to broaden his repertoire.