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Bach: Goldberg Variations / Sokolov

Bach,J.s. / Sokolov
Release Date: 02/12/2013 
Label:  Melodiya   Catalog #: 1002049   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Grigory Sokolov
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BACH Goldberg Variations . Partita No. 2 in c, BWV 826. English Suite No. 2 Grigory Sokolov (pn) MELODIYA 10 02049 (2 CDs: 128:01) Live: Leningrad 1982, 1975, & 1989

Grigory Sokolov seems to have a mysterious aura which surrounds him. Having won the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition in 1966 at the ripe old age of 16, much was to be expected from such a talented, yet Read more unheard of youth. Though his career has often been limited by the impositions of the Cold War era (mostly in Russia and Europe, where his concert activity has been centered), he has not disappointed: He has championed everyone from Byrd and Rameau, Bach and Beethoven, to Schumann, Froberger, Schubert, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, C. P. E. Bach, and many more—and that all in concert. Though he has performed a wide variety of works, he has been less enthusiastic about appearing in the recording studio and for a significant reason, though one with which Glenn Gould would surely disagree; according to Sokolov, his rationale has mostly to do with direct and unadulterated communication: “the biggest gap is the one between the microphone and the person, while there is no such a gap between one person and a thousand people.” And that is why virtually all of the recordings this pianist has made have been captured live in performance.

Luckily many of those performances were taken from concerts which feature not only adequate sound (or as adequate as those situations would allow), but were also captured before respectful audiences, which kept their coughs to a minimum, as can be witnessed in the performance of the Goldberg Variations here. The few audience noises which were captured hardly ruined the musical moment for this listener (perhaps the worst coming in the slower and softer variations); in fact, often they made me listen ever more attentively. Whether one likes Sokolov and his interpretations is another matter. But when one takes it as a given that one is listening to a master pianist, capable not only of handling virtually any difficulty which can be thrown at him, but a serious and thoughtful musician—according to the filmmaker and violinist Bruno Monsaingeon, the “greatest living pianist”—then one is in for a real treat. And here we have the pianist performing three different Bach works from various stages in his career.

The largest work featured on this recording is the Goldberg Variations . Sokolov takes every repeat, though does not necessarily ornament as much as is common today among both harpsichordists and pianists. And though Sokolov lists Gould as one of the pianists who most inspired him, his version of this work has little in common with either the latter’s 1955 or 1981 recordings of the composition. Sokolov is a pianist through and through, summoning virtually every color that he can in maintaining the interest through his over 85-minute performance. Though there are occasional extremes of tempos used (the first variation is manic in its propulsion, the 25th just a bit on the slow side, lasting almost 10 minutes here) Sokolov chooses mostly median tempos throughout, highlighting in particular the lovely polyphonic strands which seem to weave in and out of each other—one of the beauties here is the first canon at the unison, in which the individual piano tones seem not only to ring, but to glow. His attention to matters of articulation and dynamics is equally arresting: In his hands the fourth variation not only bounces, but dances, while the 11th variation reads more like an Impressionistic piece by Debussy, with its softer dynamics, its legatissimo articulation, and its lack of drive—the pianist seems to just wade in the music’s aura. There are those moments which seem just a bit brutal—the canon at the ninth—when listened to separately, but which make perfect sense in the whole scheme of things. Perhaps that is the most important piece of advice I can give when listening to this performance: Whether one has their quibbles about this or that variation, the pianist here demonstrates a real sense of a dramatic, almost narrative-like development from beginning to end. He is not a small thinker, rather he is always concerned about the big picture, and nor should the listener be small-minded when listening to his performances.

The other Bach works are similar in the performer’s approach: The faster movements are driven and bouncy in their articulation, though his sound is never less than golden. Indeed the Capriccio to the C-Minor Partita has hardly ever been played with more urgency, direction, or seriousness—or with a more beautiful tonal sheen. The slower movements are filled with pathos, with a real sense of harmonic discovery, as in the Sarabande to the A-Minor English Suite , which in Sokolov’s hands surely is the heart of that work. Throughout this recital there are hardly any light-hearted moments: Even the simplest of textures, the sunniest of keys always have a seriousness of purpose, which work particularly well in the two minor-keyed works, though which make listening to an over two-hour recital a bit difficult.

Though the sound is now somewhat dated, the piano a bit recessed in quality, the ambience of the halls is well captured, and the performances themselves are magnificent. These are pianistic performances, so those interested in period-performance practices would best stay away. But for the rest of us who love to bask in the glory of the piano and its capabilities, there is hardly a better guide alive today, both technically and musically, to show one the possibilities of the instrument and its repertoire. Until Sokolov again makes his way to the U.S. for a few concerts, this is the closest we can come to experiencing him and his music-making. Recommended, then.

FANFARE: Scott Noriega
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Works on This Recording

Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 by Johann Sebastian Bach
Performer:  Grigory Sokolov (Piano)
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1741-1742; Nuremberg, Germany 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 Sokolov vs. Gould April 13, 2013 By FRANK G PERROTTA (POINCIANA, FL) See All My Reviews "Reviewing player’s skill and player’s personality was certainly shocking to me many years ago when I first discovered the existence of Grigory Sokolov. Before going further, you must read the booklet that accompanies Sokolov’s DVD “Live in Paris”. Once you digest the info in this booklet, you will understand my review of Sokolov’s recording of the Goldberg Variations. All of the Sokolov CD’s I have contain music that Sokolov must have enjoyed but the selections are all flat and a waste of time for your listening schedules. But after you purchase, play and watch Sokolov in action on his DVD, you will understand the peculiarities of this pianist. As far as I am concerned, he is the best LIVE pianist along with all my other LIVE pianists. But why doesn’t Sokolov allow the sale of all of the many recordings he has made and holds privately and not to be released until he passes on to the New World. His privately held music recordings must contain all the popular works we the public enjoy. Unfortunately, Sokolov’s recording of the Goldberg Variations doesn’t come close in any form whatsoever to both of the recordings of the Variations made by Glenn Gould but I don’t think it’s fair for any pianist to be compared to Glenn Gould." Report Abuse
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