Grigory Sokolov performs piano concertos by Mozart & Rachmaninov

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COMPOSERS: Mozart,Rachmaninov
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
WORKS: Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 23; Rachmaninov: Piano Concerto No. 3*; plus DVD: Grigory Sokolov: A Conversation that Never Was
PERFORMER: Grigory Sokolov (piano); Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Trevor Pinnock; *BBC Philharmonic/Yan Pascal Tortelier; film by Nadia Zhdanova


Grigory Sokolov is now on a don’t-touch-me pinnacle. The only recordings this great Russian pianist will release are live ones, and as he no longer plays with orchestras, that means any orchestral ones are from the past. The Mozart here is from 2005, the Rachmaninov from 1995. But what is new is a documentary by Nadia Zhdanova, and, as far as it goes, this is fascinating.

Old photographs and archive footage vividly illustrate this shy boy’s development from primary school onwards: we see the set of the jaw developing, the carefully purposeful look in the eyes, but also how obediently he fits in with his class. We hear about his collecting and classifying of butterflies, and his collection of model aeroplanes, which burgeoned into a lifelong obsession with airline flight-paths. Footage of the 1966 Tchaikovsky competition includes Emil Gilels discussing it in advance, then the pandemonium when this unknown 16-year-old wins. The second half of the film is frustrating. Zhdanova presents tributes from Russian musicians and academics, but the effect is repetitive. We are not told, for example, about the sadistic official tour-cancellations which blighted his early career, and which explain his passion to perform and delight in giving endless encores. And we get no sense of his endearingly quirky personality.

But the two concertos here represent the zenith of his art. An ideal partnership with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock’s direction performing Mozart highlights the playful grace of Sokolov’s playing in the outer movements, and its rapt intensity in the Adagio. And the Rachmaninov goes like the wind, with Sokolov’s contrasts in tone and colour turning each section of each movement into a seductively habitable sound-world. Michael Church


Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.