GRIGORY SOKOLOV—LIVE IN PARIS • Grigory Sokolov (pn) • MEDICI ARTS 3073888 (DVD: 123:02) Live: Paris 2002
BEETHOVEN Piano Sonatas: No. 9; No. 10; No. 15, “Pastorale.” KOMITAS 6 Dances. PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 7. CHOPIN Mazurkas: Read more class="ARIAL12">op. 63/3; op. 68/4. F. COUPERIN Le tic-toc choc our Les maillotins. Soeur Monique. BACH Prelude in b, BWV 855 (arr. Siloti)
This is a film of a piano recital that Grigory Sokolov gave at the Theatre des Champs-Élysées. It is directed by Bruno Monsaingeon, who is well known for his films of Glenn Gould and the fascinating documentary Richter, the Enigma. In the DVD booklet, Monsaingeon suggests that with Michelangeli, Gould, and Richter no longer alive, Sokolov may be the “greatest living pianist.” I usually dismiss this kind of hyperbole as meaningless hype, but after seeing this recital, I am not so sure that he doesn’t have a point. Sokolov won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1966 at the age of 16. His career hasn’t followed a conventional path, and Monsaingeon implies that Sokolov is less than world famous because he has not allowed more than a handful of his recordings—all live performances, as he objects to the studio—to be released, and because he is generally secretive and eccentric.
There are some unconventional features to the recital. A large man, Sokolov sits high on a flat-platformed modern seat, not the traditional concert bench, and plays with very high, curved fingers. The stage is dimly lit (as with Richter’s concerts in his later years). The three early Beethoven sonatas that open the program are played with no break between them. The tempos that Sokolov chooses in the finale movement of the Beethoven “Pastorale” and the Prokofiev Seventh are slower than the norm. The 20-minute set of dances by the Armenian composer Komitas Vardapet (1869–1935) that follows the Beethoven is an unusual programming choice.
But any impression of eccentricity can be put aside once Sokolov’s Beethoven begins. He brings in an extraordinary range of color to the two “easy” op. 14 sonatas with tastefully applied rhythmic freedom, an uncommonly full dynamic range, and great variety of articulation. His playing is never arbitrarily quirky or self-indulgent (as Gould’s could be), and he allows himself to savor details without sacrificing a sense of the music’s larger structure. The sense of self-denying purity that straightjackets some of Richter’s performances is not part of Sokolov’s playing, nor is the occasional willful display of technique for its own sake á la Argerich or Horowitz. He seems able to identify with a huge range of musical moods. Just listen to how he plays the humorous middle movement of op. 14/2, with a huge variety of non-legato and legato touches, with every voice perfectly gauged. I am particularly impressed by Sokolov’s ability to find dynamics within the middle range, not just loud and soft extremes, and tempos that serve the music without exaggeration.
Komitas’s subtle Six Dances comes across not as a concert showpiece but as a careful transcription of Armenian folk music. The dances are in slow to moderate tempos and feature long, sinuous melody lines with occasional, sparse harmony added. Sokolov plays them with exquisite shape and trancelike concentration, but because there are so few contrasts between the dances, I must confess that I found them monotonous after a while.
Sokolov’s galvanic performance of Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata gives the first two movements a particularly exciting narrative quality. The final movement’s Precipitato, taken at a very deliberate pace, becomes more than a showy toccata. It acquires a sense of seriousness that links it to the Sonata’s other movements.
The encores comprise a magnificent, small recital of their own, and show sides of Sokolov’s playing not represented in the formal program. He plays quite a bit of early keyboard music, including the French clavecinistes, the English virginalists, Froberger, and Bach’s Art of Fugue. The high point of the entire concert may be his performance of Couperin’s difficult perpetual motion piece, Le Tic-Toc Choc, a tour de force of hand crossing that has to be seen to be appreciated. This is a technical feat that creates musical joy. Two late Chopin mazurkas are played with great freedom, and highlighting of subtle details. The first is the familiar op. 63/3, with its remarkable imitative writing at the end, and the second is Chopin’s last completed work, halting and almost unbearably melancholy. Sokolov is perfectly attuned to the understated pathos and subtle mood changes in this music. He is a master musician whom anyone interested in great piano playing should see and hear; here is the chance.
FANFARE: Paul Orgel
Recorded live from the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paris, 4 November 2002.
Picture format: NTSC 16:9
Sound format: PCM Stereo
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Running time: 123 mins
No. of DVDs: 1 (DVD 9) Read less
Sokolov is a geniusSeptember 6, 2012By Trevor T. (Yarm, United Kingdom)See All My Reviews"There are not enough recordings of Sokolov's playing the piano. His skill is unique - just watch his hands when playing Couperin's Tic-toc-choc which was composed for a 2 manual harpsichord."Report Abuse