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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No.23 in A major K488 [27:47]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
Piano Concerto No.3 in D minor [43:56]
Grigory Sokolov (piano), Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Trevor Pinnock (Mozart), BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier (Rachmaninov)
rec. live, Mozarteum, Salzburg, 30 January 2005 (Mozart); Royal Albert Hall, London, 27 July 1995 (Rachmaninov)
DVD: Grigory Sokolov – A Conversation That Never Was. A film by Nadia Zhdanova [58’52]
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 7015 [71:43 + DVD: 58:52]

This is the third album released by Deutsche Grammophon of live recordings by the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov. I was fortunate to be able to review the previous two (review ~ review). They were both solo recitals, so it is gratifying that this time we are offered two concertos. This in itself has added value in that the pianist no longer collaborates with orchestras on the grounds that he isn't offered sufficient rehearsal time. Neither does he make studio recordings, preferring the spontaneity of the ‘live’ event. Ten years separates the two performances here. The Mozart Concerto is sourced from a concert given at the Mozarteum, Salzburg, 30 January 2005 with Trevor Pinnock and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, and the Rachmaninov dates from a decade earlier - recorded live at the Royal Albert Hall, London, at the Proms July 27, 1995, with the BBC Philharmonic under Yan-Pascal Tortelier. The contrast between the two works couldn’t be more stark, the Mozart requiring subtlety, elegance and finesse, the Rachmaninov formidable technical prowess and broad romantic sweep.

The opening movement of the Mozart Concerto is nicely paced and has an unruffled ease. Pinnock and Sokolov are perfectly in tune as regards rhythmic flexibility, with the conductor quite remarkable in the delicacy of his light and buoyant accompaniment. The piano solos are expressive and elegantly phrased. Sokolov uses Mozart's own cadenza. I don't recall ever having heard the slow movement played so well. Conductor and soloist have striven for intimacy and pensiveness, and this is what they've achieved with potent effect. This must be some of the most poignant music the composer ever penned, and the underlying pathos comes over with startling effect. Effervescent and vivacious, the finale is rendered with blithe insouciance. A common practice in Mozart's time was for the soloist to participate during the tuttis, offering some discreet reinforcement of the musical material. Later, this fashion tended to become obsolete. Sokolov skillfully etches some of the lines in the tuttis of all three movements in this performance, so unobtrusively that you have to listen carefully.

I've heard that there are about five extant live airings of Sokolov performing the Rachmaninov Third; I'm only familiar with two of them - this one which I've known for several years, and another with the Leningrad Symphony Orchestra under Victor Dubrovsky (?1998), courtesy of Radio Petersburg. The sound quality of the latter is inferior, but the performance is another spellbinder. DG have worked a miracle on this 1995 Proms performance, and it emerges bright, vivid and fresh. The main plus of this performance is that it is not just a barnstorming event. Sokolov has the ability to scale things down when necessary, playing with supreme responsiveness and finesse. Impassioned, ardent and intensely fervid are adjectives that immediately spring to mind. In the first movement he plays the original longer chordal cadenza, which I prefer. He invests the slow movement with poetry and passion. The finale has generous helpings of vigour and rhythmic drive. I love the way he takes a broad, spacious view of the 'big tune' when it reappears in all it’s glory at the end. Yan Pascal Tortelier and the BBC Philharmonic are with him all the way. Needless to say, the audience response at the end is ecstatic.

The pianist no longer gives interviews, so hasn't collaborated directly with Nadia Zhdanova in her accompanying film Grigory Sokolov: A Conversation That Never Was. This fascinating biopic is dedicated to Inna Sokolova, his late wife, and her poems, appearing in public for the first time, provide a thread running throughout (texts in French, German, Russian and English are provided). As well as detailing a biographical account of the pianist, colleagues share their thoughts and reminiscences. What emerges is a thoughtful, warm and generous character who eschews the world of glitzy celebrity, preferring to let his music-making speak for itself. I was interested to discover that his success at the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition caused a bit of a stir. He was 16 at the time, the youngest musician ever to win the Gold Medal. The jury, headed by Emil Gilels, submitted a unanimous verdict, which didn't go down too well with the public or the pundits, who reacted with indignation, to put it mildly. Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, with some even considering him the world's greatest living pianist. There are one or two film clips of him performing in his early days, including a thrilling excerpt of him playing the cadenza of the Rachmaninov Third in concert.

I’m certain that all, like myself, who follow Sokolov’s career with interest, will find much to admire in this absorbing release.

Stephen Greenbank
Previous review: Marc Bridle (Recording of the Month)



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