Grigory Sokolov (piano)
TPT: 109’ 02”
DGG 479 4342 (2CD)
reviewed by Neville Cohn
Like those two great pianists of an earlier era – Dame Myra Hess in the UK and Leopold Godowsky in the USA – Grigory Sokolov finds studio recordings enormously stressful. As well, Sokolov, more often than not, vetoes the commercial release of recordings of his public performances. But once in a very long while, he might give the nod to a release of a particular recital recording. Happily, this has been the case in relation to his 2008 Salzburg performance. Understandably, there’s been huge interest in the recording.
In the opening movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata K280, the playing seems an instance of profound communion between pianist and composer. There are no stylistic oddities here, no grandstanding – just utter stylistic honesty. The slow Siciliano movement, in particular, is given a beautifully considered performance. The finale, too, is a delight, coming across with an aerial buoyancy, a lightness of touch and a delicious insouciance, It’s a perfect assessment of the music as is Sokolov’s account of K 332..
Chopin’s opus 28 – the 24 Preludes – is the musical equivalent of an Ali Baba’s treasure cave. Here, it is presented as if to the manner born. Listen to Prelude No 1 with its glorious lift to the phrase, each a gem of expressiveness. Prelude 2 comes across as the epitome of sadness and regret – and Prelude 3 is presented as a wondrously buoyant will-o’-the-wisp.
Prelude 4 in E minor, massacred by legions of well-intentioned children at eisteddfodau, is here a deeply meaningful utterance and Prelude 5 comes across as an outburst of pure joy. In Prelude 6 in B minor, Sokolov plumbs a deep well of melancholy.
In Chopin’s famous Prelude 7 in A, Sokolov brings freshness to familiar notes. And the cruelly difficult Prelude 8 in F sharp minor comes across with breathtaking fluency; it’s a mini-marvel of fabulously fine, faultless fingerwork in the right hand.
Prelude 9 is pure enchantment – and Prelude 12 is masterly, flashing into enchanted life.
Prelude13 is offered as a touchingly introspective nocturne; it’s a model offering. And the outer sections of Prelude 15 – the much loved ‘Raindrop Prelude’ – come across in a movingly expressive way, a perfect foil for implacable repeated notes in the central section with their suggestion of a mournful, tolling bell.
Is there a more viciously difficult Prelude than No 16 in B flat minor? It’s been the graveyard of more than a few pianistic reputations. But in this brutally demanding piece, Sokolov reveals himself an Olympian keyboard athlete with near flawlessly accurate left hand leaps and astonishingly rapid fingerwork in the right hand. Bravo!
In Prelude18 in F minor, Sokolov’s playing is intensely dramatic, the more so for its subtle rubato. A beautifully considered, lyrical melody line in Prelude 19 is etched against a background of accompanying notes – and the famous, doomladen funeral march that is Prelude 20 is a model of solemnity. Sokolov brings a profoundly lyrical quality to Prelude 21.
In Prelude 22 – curiously – there’s a departure from the impeccable taste that informs almost all the rest of opus 28. Rubato is strangely excessive here.
Prelude 23, on the other hand, is in exquisite taste with gently glowing tone and subtleties that make this one of the chief joys of the set.
Prelude 24 is lacking in drama – and surely needing greater intensity of attack?
Encores include Scriabin’s Poeme opus 69 no 1, magically insightful with gorgeous, glowing tone.
There’s more Chopin: the Mazurka opus 68 no 2 given an exquisitely poignant reading. Trills are perfectly spun. There‘s also an achingly beautiful account of the Mazurka opus 63 no 3 – and wondrous trills and an aerial lightness elevate Sokolov’s account of Rameau’s Les Sauvages to the heights.
Bach’s Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ is like a benediction; it calls to mind the playing of Dame Myra Hess: there is no greater praise.