Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Piano Sonata in A minor, D 784 Op. Posth. 143 (1823) [20:09]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Carnaval Op. 9 [27:71]
Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-1849)
Mazurka in A minor, Op. 17 No. 4 [4:41]
Etude in F major, Op. 10 No. 8 [2:17]
Etude in A minor, Op. 25 No. 11 [3:25]
Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Etude in D flat major, Op. 8 No. 10 [2:00]
Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68 [9:20]
Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
Three Movements from Petrushka [16:59]
Sergei PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)
Sonata No. 7 in B flat major, Op. 83 [17:54]
Sonata No. 8 in B flat major, Op. 84 [30:13]
Grigory Sokolov (piano)
rec. 1966-1988
MELODIYA MELCD1002292 [69:13 + 65:11]

This is the third Melodiya release of live recordings by the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov that I have reviewed (review ~ review), and very welcome it is too in making these valuable concerts available. The Sokolov discography comprises live airings almost exclusively. There are only one or two rare exceptions. He abhors the contrived studio patching together of takes, in favour of the freshness and spontaneity of the ‘live’ situation. Apart from two short pieces from the 1966 Third International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, the remaining bulk of the recordings, we are informed in the booklet, emanate from Leningrad over a twenty year period. They range from Schubert to the virtuosic transcription of Three Movements from Petrushka by Stravinsky. So, we are offered a comprehensive cross-section of the pianist’s repertoire.

Schubert’s Piano Sonata in A minor, D 784 must surely be one of his bleakest utterances. This performance is suffused with darkness and austerity, with Sokolov navigating the tragic trajectory in a way few have matched. There are several violent and dramatic chordal passages, effectively managed and brilliantly captured. The pianist finds some consolation in the slow movement, where the despair is assuaged somewhat.

The earliest recording, Schumann’s Carnaval, is from 1967 when the pianist was only seventeen. Considering its date and provenance it is in remarkably fine sound. From the opening Préambule the pianist grabs your attention and you know you’re in for an exciting ride. It’s a towering performance of great technical strength, and Sokolov’s consummate pianism shines forth. He captures the mood of each piece, and in the more inward ones finds poetry and nobility. It doesn’t get much better than this.

Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 9, Op. 68, known as ‘Black Mass’ is a late work, highly chromatic and atonal. Sokolov captures the unsettled mood convincingly, and highlights the mystery and menace of the score. He achieves a shattering climax, and his playing is awash with tonal colour. The performance stands side by side with that other great recording by Horowitz.

Sokolov’s Stravinsky has tremendous energy, drive, excitement and rhythmic propulsion. What disappoints, however, is the poor quality of the recording, rendering the piano sound brittle and hard-edged. The overall aural picture is over-bright and lacking in tonal colour. I shall not be straying too far from my Pollini recording for this three-movement extravaganza.

The two Prokofiev Sonatas are imbued with a wealth of melodic invention. Although this is not music I particularly enjoy, these performances are technically brilliant, underpinned by drama, passion and lyricism. With Sokolov, his playing is always rhythmically alert. Phrasing and articulation are well judged and dynamics are perfectly realized. Sound quality is more than acceptable.

The shorter pieces are equally convincing and are graced with the same inspirational insights.

Stephen Greenbank

Recording details
Schubert, Mazurka - 1969
Schuman - 1967
Etudes - 1966, Third International Tchaikovsky Competition
Scriabin sonata - 15 March 1984, live, Grand Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory
Stravinsky - 1974
Prokofiev 6 - 1969, live at the Grand Hall of the Leningrad Conservatory
Prokofiev 7 - 26 March 1988


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