Chopin: Études, Op. 25; Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35

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LABELS: Opus 111
WORKS: Études, Op. 25; Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35
PERFORMER: Grigory Sokolov (piano)
Sokolov is a pianist who instantly commands one’s attention. A born musical dramatist, with technique to burn, he has an intensity reminiscent of Horowitz at his best. And like Horowitz, his style is highly personal and can take a bit of getting used to. But once you’re on his wavelength, there are rich rewards to be reaped. The range and depth of his tonal palette are remarkable by any standard, and while he can unleash vast waves of sound when he sees fit, he never bangs (not something which could always be said of Horowitz). Nor does he ever lose the suppleness of line which is one of the prime requirements in Chopin’s music. Whether in the mighty arches of the B flat minor Sonata or in the delicate traceries of pieces like the F minor Étude and the one in double-thirds, his sense of structure never falters (though the gap of barely a second between the first two movements of the Sonata is both unsettling and puzzling). If he has anything approaching an Achilles heel, it’s a tendency to over-characterise, though this is a notoriously subjective matter and far less evident here than in his recording of the Preludes, reviewed in the last issue. His accuracy, variety and insight in the poetic and hair-raising Études are positively breathtaking – as exciting and fresh as any on disc, and surpassing most. Indeed for my present tastes he establishes a new benchmark among modern recordings, though Cortot in 1942 remains my ultimate desert island choice, despite its relative antiquity and plethora of wrong notes. Jeremy Siepmann