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).