Grigory Sokolov

French Suite in B minor, BWV814
Piano Sonata in D minor, Op.31/2 (Tempest)
Piano Sonata in F sharp minor, Op.11

Grigory Sokolov (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 16 May, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Not so much a recital but a ‘happening’, one that takes place in virtual darkness – a requirement of Grigory Sokolov that creates just the right ambience. With six substantial encores, four by Chopin (including a couple of the Impromptus and a Mazurka) and then Bach, as arranged first by Siloti and then by Busoni, this may have been a ‘long’ concert by the clock but a timeless, even disorientating one when measured in ‘musical’ rather than ‘real’ time.

The Chopin encores demonstrated Sokolov’s prowess in this composer – searching, volatile, dextrous (but not showy) and eloquent, exploring a wide dynamic range (including amazingly ‘distant’ pianissimos) and with an emotional weight that transcends the ‘salon’ aspects of Chopin that some pianists perceive no further than. The two Bach transcriptions had soulful power and turned the recital ‘full-circle’, the opening French Suite light-fingered and fleet and crisply articulated, voiced and balanced. Ornamentation was made explicit and the ‘Sarabande’ given an emotional dimension a world away from the music’s origins but chiming profoundly with ‘today’.

Beethoven’s ‘Tempest’ Sonata may have seemed too worked-out at times, especially regarding dynamic contrasts, but atmosphere was powerfully conveyed, rhythms were immaculately ‘sprung’ and Sokolov peered deeply into the resonance of single notes and their surreal potential – maybe too much, but it opened up the scope of the piece and made one reassess it. From the gaseous vapour of the opening arpeggio (and its return) to a perfectly poised, moderately paced finale (its rotational design made specific), fortissimos gruffly assertive, an immense world was opened up, one that in stopwatch-time was not especially extended, but seemed dimensionally expanded in the most positive sense.

Sokolov couldn’t disguise that Schumann’s F sharp minor Sonata is rather sprawling in design, but his was an ingenuous interpretation in which he caught the mood unerringly, heroic and soulful in the ‘Introduzione’ and the drive and tenderness of the Allegro vivace. As he had done in both the Bach and Beethoven, Sokolov allows no pauses between movements (amazing how that stifles the audience’s bronchial outbursts that usually occur at such points!) and this intensified the music’s whole. How well, for all his premeditation, Sokolov captured the spontaneity and fantasy of Schumann’s music and what a magnificent account he gave of the ‘Scherzo and Intermezzo’.

The nearest that Sokolov gets to having a relationship with the audience is a short bow that merely interrupts him getting off the platform; but while he is playing he is the most vivid and creative communicator, one with a most wonderful and variegated sound – and always serving the music.

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