Welcoming applause sets the scene and Grigory Sokolov is soon into his stride with the initial of two Piano Sonatas in F by Mozart that formed the first half of his Salzburg Festival recital in 2008, documented here exactly as it happened: there is no post-concert patching. Not that there needed to be. As ever, Sokolov explores the music for its dynamism and character and engages the listener not just with his perceptive and personal approach but in being able to convince – totally – that this is how the music goes.
Sokolov’s method to Mozart, a son of Salzburg of course, is large-scale and articulate, big and serious, and with all repeats observed. In K280 the central Adagio is deeply expressive, rapt, utterly transporting. No applause salutes this work on its conclusion, which is welcome anyway, but there appears to be no editing-out of it, for as the audience becomes a little bronchial in the wake of the ultimate chord Sokolov goes immediately into an elevated account of the equally lofty K332 Sonata, an outstanding, time-taken reading that has one in wonderment of the music while appreciating Sokolov’s glorious interpretation and also his sensitivity and variety at the keyboard. He revels in the cut and thrust of the finale. This time clapping is the greeting, if too soon, we need a few seconds to reflect on the magnitude of what has happened, but at least it is faded quickly.
After the interval, as it were, and I took one – needed to – comes as divine an account of Chopin’s 24 Preludes as you could wish for, played as a continuous sequence. However exclusive Sokolov is in his view of the music, there is never any doubt that it is between him and the printed page, not something conceived on an egotistical whim. This is some of the most soulful and impassioned Chopin-playing you will ever hear, and so sympathetically modulated too, tender and delicate, leonine and athletic – each of the Preludes’ worlds opened up yet threaded through so that everything belongs.
Sokolov is invariably generous with encores, and he gave six at Salzburg, 15 minutes’ worth – embracing the riddles of Scriabin (twice), two gentle Mazurkas by Chopin, Rameau’s racy Les Sauvages (full of ornamentation, something Sokolov is so meticulous with) and ending with a Chorale Prelude by J. S. Bach that is simply sublime and during which my blood ran cold if bringing with it the sweetest of sensations.
Grigory Sokolov (born in St Petersburg in 1950) may well be enigmatic, even a maverick, but he is one of the very greatest of pianists, true to himself and the music he plays – and on this July day in Salzburg he was superb. Austrian Radio’s recording is ideally intimate and truthful, capturing verbatim a notable event, something I was unable to take my ears away from, a redefining experience.