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Chopin: Preludes, Sonate No 2, Etudes / Grigory Sokolov

Release Date: 01/29/2008 
Label:  Naive   Catalog #: 30456   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Grigory Sokolov
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

CHOPIN Preludes, op. 28. 1 Sonata No. 2 in b?. 2 Etudes, op. 25 3 Grigory Sokolov (pn) NAÏVE 30456 (2 CDs: 106:07) Live: Paris 8/17/1990; 1 11/10/1992; 2 St. Petersburg 8/13/1995 3 Read more

This was my first exposure to Russian pianist Sokolov, who is, in his own way, as eccentric as the late Glenn Gould was. Like Gould, he delights in fiddling with and tuning his own pianos (sometimes for up to an hour before his concerts), and is known for his unusual interpretations. Unlike Gould, he will only record live in recital and never in the studio.

Since my benchmark performers in these works are also pianists who were considered somewhat eccentric, Shura Cherkassky and Alfred Cortot, I certainly don’t mind considering an unusual view of the music provided that I find it valid. Sokolov apparently believes in extreme tempo shifts and deviations from score to enhance and color his musical journeys. Thus his performances are a constant push-pull of these extremes of tempo. This is certainly in keeping with the aesthetic of many old-school pianists who performed Chopin (among them Ignacy Friedman, Vladimir de Pachmann, and Josef Hoffmann), but not that of Cortot who favored consistent tempos, nor that of Artur Rubinstein, Dinu Lipatti, Clara Haskil, or even Cherkassky, who could be capricious with tempo but not quite as extreme in contrast.

Nevertheless, Sokolov’s performance of Sonata No. 2 is fascinating, if a deviation from the norm. Whereas other pianists present a headlong rush once the doppio movimento is reached, Sokolov stops to smell the harmonic flowers repeatedly. He also includes repeats not found in Cortot’s 1928 recording, and of course his technique is much surer than Cortot’s. His scherzo is full of luftpauses. If all this suggests to the reader a delicate view of Chopin, let him or her be assured that this is not so. Despite the tempo shifts, this Chopin is powerful and muscular as well as reflective; indeed, there is even strength in the reflective pages. The famed “funeral march” is played with appropriate moodiness and reflection. Subtle rubato shifts make the expected rhythm sound fresh and supple. The forte passage in the middle of the movement is almost overpowering in its emotional intensity. There is nothing romantic or fussy about the concluding presto , but a headlong if softly played rush forward, which is tremendously exhilarating.

Comparing his op. 28 Preludes to those of Cherkassky, the great colorist, or his op. 25 Etudes (mistakenly identified on the jewel box back cover as “Marcia funebre en si bémol mineur”) to those of both colorist Cherkassky and the firebrand Gyorgy Cziffra, one finds a musical approach somewhere between the two, yet directly related to neither. Gone is Cherkassky’s reflective color, but also gone is Cziffra’s impetuous and sometimes inappropriate speed and surface glitter. I find Sokolov’s approach in these miniatures to be richer in tone than Cherkassky’s, which produces a different feeling even when the tempos are the same, but more often than not Sokolov is slower. This is especially noticeable in the Preludes No. 2 (2:43 to Cherkassky’s 1:49), the No. 4 Largo (2:21 to 1:50), No. 6 (2: 28 to 2:13) and especially No. 15 (7:14 to 5:37!). Prelude No. 2 has an altogether more halting feeling to it, and the cascading effects that Cherkassky can produce in Preludes No. 10 and 11 also halted. I find this less pleasant to listen to, as if one were somehow caught on a twig when rolling down a hill. Eventually, Sokolov’s performances of the Preludes started to get on my nerves—too much fussiness for my taste.

The op. 25 Etudes were much more traditional in approach, and so more appealing to me. The “Aeolian Harp” etude lacked some of the delicate flutter of Cherkassky’s reading, but was fine nonetheless. The F-Minor presto Etude was marvelous, light, and airy, and I particularly enjoyed his staccato playing in Etude no. 4. Like its counterpart in the preludes, however, the No. 7 lento Etude is somewhat static and stodgy in phrasing, and Sokolov’s “Butterfly” seems to fly with one broken wing—the rhythms are a bit too clearly articulated for my taste—but his “Winter Wind” had exactly the right bite and color.

A mixed bag, then, not for everyone’s tastes, but if you’re looking for a different view of Chopin, this one is certainly different.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Preludes (24) for Piano, Op. 28 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Grigory Sokolov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836-1839; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 08/17/1990 
Venue:  Live  Live Paris, France 
Sonata for Piano no 2 in B flat minor, B 128/Op. 35 "Funeral March" by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Grigory Sokolov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1837-1839; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 11/10/1992 
Venue:  Live  Live Paris, France 
Etudes (12) for Piano, Op. 25 by Frédéric Chopin
Performer:  Grigory Sokolov (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1832-1836; Paris, France 
Date of Recording: 08/13/1995 
Venue:  Live  Live St. Petersburg, Russia 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Wonderful, so great!!! April 15, 2014 By loisAnn flood (danville, CA) See All My Reviews "I LOVE, LOVE GRIGORY SOKOLOV, he is the greatest pianist in the world, love the CD. Thank you for speedy service." Report Abuse
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