Saturday, September 13, 2014

Sokolov plays Beethoven, Scriabin, and Arapov

Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 7 in D major (Op. 10 no. 3)
Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 27 in E minor (Op. 90)
Ludwig van Beethoven Piano Sonata no. 32 in C minor (Op. 111)

Alexander Scriabin Piano Sonata no. 3 in F sharp minor (Op. 23)

Boris Arapov Piano Sonata no. 2 (1978)
Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Percussions with Chamber Orchestra (1973)

To say that the legendary Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov is somewhat under-recorded is to put it mildly. If you have the 10-CD collection put out in 2011 by Naïve Records in 2011 and the single DVD of the 2002 recital in Paris issued by Medici Arts in 2002, then you’ve got more than the lion’s share. This contrasts, for example, with the 318 recordings by Sviatoslav Richter available for purchase in Archiv Musik – or the 148 by Emil Gilels, who chaired the jury when Sokolov won the Tchaikovsky prize in 1966 at the age of 16.

So this double CD from Melodyiya is very welcome indeed. Sokolov is often compared (justly) to Gilels and Richter as a giant of the keyboard and there is nothing on these two discs that would make anyone rethink. The recording of Beethoven’s last sonata in particular is monumental.

I imagine that most people will buy this recording for the Beethoven performances. The exciting performance of Op. 10 no.3 shows Sokolov’s trademark combination of great power and delicate lyricism throughout, but particularly in the initial Presto. The slow movement is spell-binding. Flexible tempi work very well in both movements of Op. 90, with real profundity emerging from Sokolov’s searching exploration of the first movement.

Sokolov is almost an ideal match for the Op. 111 sonata, whose two movements display the two dimensions of his playing style. His incredible technical mastery is firmly on display in the tempestuous first movement, but clearly in service to his sure grasp of the movement’s architecture and never drowning out the expressiveness of the music. The theme, variations, and coda of the second movement are almost perfectly suited to Sokolov’s meditative and lyrical approach. He projects a clear sense of progression through the massive movement, not an easy thing to achieve given its structure. In all the performance is one of the greats.

The second disc contains Scriabin’s third piano sonata, fairly standard fare for Soviet/Russian pianists, and, more unusually, two pieces by the Russian composer Boris Arapov who died in 1995. Arapov’s piano sonata no. 2 is a workmanlike piece, but the Concerto for Violin, Piano, and Percussions with Chamber Orchestra is an intriguing piece, almost certainly unique in the line up of soloists!

The weak link in the chain is the presentation. The cover design and font is cheesy in the extreme and the program notes very breathless. But anyone concerned about that can purchase the download. The sound quality varies from fairly good (for the 1974 recording of Op. 10 no. 3) to good for the later recordings (Op. 111 was recorded live in Leningrad in March 1988). This is a must-buy.

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