Grigory Sokolov plays Beethoven and Schubert
Periodically prevented from touring abroad by a repressive Soviet government, Grigory Sokolov learned to regard recitals as the elixir of life: the urgency and immediacy of his performances – and his generosity with encores, which can on occasion almost double the length of a concert – are all thanks to that life-giving spark across the footlights. And this double-CD, consisting of live recordings from Warsaw and Salzburg, benefits hugely from that spark.
The first Schubert Impromptu becomes an epic journey in miniature, set in a bleak landscape where emotional restraint is the norm. The second goes at such a leisurely pace that every quaver in the unbroken right-hand melody gets due weight in this artlessly convincing treatment; there’s nothing honeyed or hackneyed in the delivery of the third, and the arpeggiated figurations in the fourth have a lovely evenness. Each of the D946 Klavierstücke becomes an essay in fastidiously-controlled moods and colours.
And in these hands the opening Allegro of Beethoven’s Hammerklavier is a revelation. The tempo is cool and deliberate, the passagework transparent and graceful, the prevailing mood playful and tender; continuing through the Scherzo, that playfulness segues into profundity with the Adagio, where every bar is infused with visionary authority, encouraging the listener to dream. The closing fugue unfolds in unclouded serenity: who else would have made it sound like that? Punctuated by audience cheers, the Rameau encores are as exquisite as you would expect from this great keyboard poet, with whom 18th-century Parisian elegance sits as naturally as Viennese passion; the concluding Brahms Intermezzo comes like a benediction on all that has gone before.