Sviatoslav Richter is playing “Jeux d’eau” by Maurice Ravel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cumoVX7x3Zo

It’s fascinating to see a Russian bear having to comply with French natural elegance. Sviatoslav Richter is a musician who can be annoying to watch, better to hear. I heard and saw him in Oslo many years ago, some Grieg anniversary, and I guess he played well, although his programming, I felt then, was a little boring. He was playing only a stack of the small Lyric pieces of Grieg, which any Norwegian lover of classical piano music knows only too well. The Ballad, which is a large work, or anything more unusual, would maybe have been more interesting, but anyway.

He looked extremely serious up there at the platform, and given his way of playing, which is authoritative and you could say straightforward, I found it less interesting to listen. I know how these pieces are supposed to be played, after playing a lot of them myselves in my childhood and hearing Grieg always, everywhere. Emil Gilels, another Russian pianist, takes a stance in his interpretation of the Lyric pieces, which I find much more refreshing, instead of just the stating of facts.

Seeing this film also reminds me of the fact that whenever you hear a performer perform a piece of music, what’s going on is a meeting between at least two things, the piece and the musician, or maybe the composer and the performer. It’s not just “Mozart” or “Ravel” coming out, it’s a combination of two personalities, a series of facts discovered or invented by one and said by another.

This is a very different one from Martha Argerich’s rendition of the piece, and when I turned down the screen on my computer so I didn’t have to consider the awkwardness of his almost crouching back, this version worked fine too.