Beethoven
Sonatas: Opp.14/1 & 2 and Op.28 (Pastoral)
Komitas
Dances
Prokofiev
Sonata No.7
Five encores
Grigory Sokolov (piano)

4 November 2002, Théatre des Champs-Elysées, Paris
CD No: NAÏVE DR 2108
Duration: 2 hours 3 minutes
Reviewed: February 2004
Here is a wonderful matching of musical individuality and perception – the whole of a live recital with Grigory Sokolov in commanding form. The pictures are secondary, save for adding value when it comes to registering the pianist’s reactions. Despite the director being Bruno Monsaingeon, certain filmic devices, such as the camera drawing away as a movement ends, are predictable. The sound is first-rate though.
Not for the first time one listens and views the picture occasionally; the alchemy of sound itself is more telling and doesn’t need an image to sustain it. The important thing here is how Sokolov interprets the music. His weight and dynamic amplitude is never gratuitous, and most often it’s his dexterity and a carefully considered range of touch and sonority that stands out; most important is that all seems right for the music, and all seems spontaneous despite the no-doubt lengthy preparation. As for the pictures, Sokolov is anti-display; his movements are wholly natural and ’in sync’ with the music. This is a man who communicates through his intellect and fingers, through sound.
A wonderfully time-taken Pastoral sonata, which exists here as sonorous, melodically explicit, harmonically profound and sensorial in its searching – an account that without drawing attention to itself sheds new light on the work’s possibilities, not least its playful ones. The finale is perfect in pace, the left-hand rocking gently, with the ’simple’ tune in the right made hypnotic. I am, though, dismayed that Sokolov spurns the exposition repeat.
Following are Six Dances of Sogomon Komitas (1869-1935) of whom I know nothing, and on whom the booklet supplies only the dates just given. I guess he was Turkish. Certainly these six not-so-miniature Dances exude Oriental promise and the ’authentic’ scale passages that create exotic soundscapes are maybe transcriptions of indigenous material as played on national instruments. Sokolov is as absorbed by this work as he is by the ’greater’ music that surrounds it.
The Prokofiev sonata, often used and abused to display technical wherewithal and to ’impress’ an audience through fast and loud playing, finds Sokolov above such things. He searches the explosive and interior aspects of this usually taken-for-granted piece and shows its elusive and deeper sides. The result is a revelation, not least in the finale, given with articulate rhythms and cumulative purpose – dogged rather than easy.
Of the five encores, the two Chopin mazurkas are exquisite without being precious, and two Couperin Ordre movements are effervescent, the ornaments in Soeur Monique delightfully integrated. He doesn’t bask in the applause; a nod to the audience and he’s gone. Siloti’s transcription of Bach’s B minor Prelude is a consolatory way of ending.
My colleague, Ying Chang, reviewing his recent Wigmore Hall recital, suggests that Sokolov is the greatest living pianist. I understand that. I would rather say ’one of’. Certainly Sokolov makes some of the hyped pianists seem mere pretenders.

 

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