Album review: Sokolov, Schubert/Beethoven

By William Dart

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In 2015, Deutsche Grammophon released a double CD of Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov's 2008 Salzburg Festival recital. Less than a year later, we have a selection of more recent mementos of Sokolov's prowess, taken from 2013 concerts in Salzburg and Warsaw.

And if Sokolov albums were to become an annual event, I'm sure there are many who would be extremely content. The man is, admittedly, a legend. At 66, he's famous for preferring his music-making to be live rather than manufactured in the sequestered air of the recording studio. It means, even on CD, you feel the charged atmosphere of a rapt audience.

Sokolov's Schubert may not be to everyone's taste. Forget feathery-toned fortepianos; this man drives a powerhouse grand which makes for a mesmerizing range of colours in the first of the D899 Impromptus. Yet, is the rubato-laden final Impromptu just a little too wilful?

Schubert's Three Piano Pieces of D946, among the composer's last compositions, are more consistently successful, with Sokolov deft in navigating the quick changes and turn-arounds of the last.

These come across as very modern, reminding one of the daring, almost cinematic "shock cuts" in Stravinsky's Petrushka. It's a pity, however, that the pianist, impatient to launch into this set, has his first note covered by fading applause.

Sokolov's reading of Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata is rather leisurely, taking 10 minutes more than some, yet the focus that comes from his utter deliberation, especially in the great Adagio, somehow catches the very essence of this work.

The final reward is a collection of dazzling encores - five frisky harpsichord pieces by Rameau and a lingering Brahms Intermezzo.


Sokolov, Schubert/Beethoven
(Deutsche Grammophon)
Verdict: Veteran pianist returns with a charismatic, provocative recital.

- Weekend magazine

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