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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Sonata No. 7 in D major, Op. 10 No. 3 [26:01] (1)
Piano Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90 [13:51] (2)
Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor, Op.111 [31:21] (3)
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1916)
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23 [21:08] (4)
Boris ARAPOV (1905-1992)
Piano Sonata No. 2 (1978) [9:31]
Concerto for Violin, Piano and Percussions with Chamber Orchestra (1973) [27:59] (6)
Grigory Sokolov (piano)
Mikhail Vaiman (violin) (6)
Nikolay Moskalenko (percussions) (6)
Chamber Orchestra of the Leningrad State Philharmonic Society/Alexander Dmitriyev (6)
rec. 1974, unknown venue (1); 6 May 1987, live, Hall of the Leningrad Glinka State Academic Choir (2); 26 March 1988 Grand Hall of the Leningrad State Philharmonic Society (3); 1972, unknown venue (4); 1985, unknown venue (5); 13 May 1974, live (6)
MELODIYA MELCD1002240 [71:17 + 58:42]

There wouldn’t be much argument over the assertion that Grigory Sokolov is one of the finest pianists on the concert platform today. For many he has assumed cult status. I have been a devotee for many years since my then piano teacher introduced me to his recordings in the 1990s. I was fortunate at that time to hear him twice live in concert, both in a solo recital and in a concerto. Melodiya recently released a 4 CD box set of the pianist’s live recordings which I reviewed a couple of months ago and that I would wholeheartedly recommend as a companion to this ‘twofer’.

Born in Leningrad in 1950, he gave his first solo performance at the age of twelve. In 1973 he graduated from the Leningrad Conservatory. Seven years previously he had won first prize at the Third International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, where he played the Saint-Saëns Second Piano Concerto and the obligatory Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto. Since then he has carved out a distinguished career, his repertoire embracing the classical and romantic, reaching as far back as Byrd, Couperin and Rameau and forward to twentieth century composers. As an artist he is self-effacing, focusing all his intellect and energy on the music rather than on the extraneous trappings that are part and parcel of the life of a travelling virtuoso. He is a very private person, some would even say reclusive, who declines interviews.
 
In the Piano Sonata Op. 10 No.3, Sokolov displays his Beethoven credentials to the full with an energized opening movement. It is large-scaled playing with the pianist having an innate
understanding for the architecture of the piece. However, it is in the sublime slow movement that he really makes his mark, allowing the melancholy, tragedy and anguish of Beethoven’s expression of personal grief to emerge. It is a profound and truly memorable reading. The sadness and gloom is ameliorated in the Menuetto that follows. Sokolov finally lets the light in the capricious Rondo, based on a teasing three-note question.
 
A nicely-paced and eloquently realized Op. 90 in E minor follows, the only one of the three Beethoven sonatas included described in the booklet as being recorded live, though both this sonata and Op. 111 are followed by applause.

Op. 111 is a sonata that Sokolov favours, shows a particular affinity for and has programmed many times in recital. The first movement opens robustly, carrying with it the authority of grand gesture. The fugal elements that follow are articulated cleanly and with clarity. In the Arietta, he builds up the variations cumulatively. The movement ends in an atmosphere of peace and serenity. I compared this performance with two live recordings I have, one from Bolzano, 8 May 2004 and another recorded in the Grand Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1978 (courtesy of Radio St Petersburg). Heard through less than ideal sound quality in both these airings, Sokolov takes a similar interpretative view. The advantage of this Melodiya recording is the excellent sound quality captured. Despite being a live event, the audience are respectful and notably quiet, and I hadn’t realized it had been recorded in concert until the applause at the end.

Scriabin composed his Piano Sonata No. 3 in F sharp minor, Op. 23 between 1897 and 1898. Many regard it as the most popular of his ten sonatas. A four movement work, each movement depicts four stages of the soul in the drama of life’s struggle. Sokolov captures the mood - the drama of the first, followed by the restlessness of the second. The third movement is imbued with tenderness, and is delivered with a dream-like intensity. There's a triumphant finale to crown the work.

Boris Arapov is a composer new to me. Like Sokolov, he hailed from Leningrad. The Piano Sonata No. 2 is in one movement of angular dissonance. It is dedicated to the pianist. Sokolov is sensitive to the changes in mood and the dynamic range of the narrative. The Concerto composed five years earlier in 1973 is here receiving its second performance, having been premiered in Copenhagen earlier that year. It is dedicated to Igor Stravinsky. The opening is atmospheric, with each solo instrument entering the fray and partaking in a dramatic dialogue. A contrasting Andante is followed by an energetic finale where all caution if thrown to the wind. This is a committed performance of a work I would happily return to.

All the performances here are in more than acceptable sound quality. Comprehensive booklet notes are in Russian, English and French. It is a bonus to be introduced to the Arapov works, which I am sure will be little known.

Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Sonata 7 ~~ Sonatas 27 & 32