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Grigory Sokolov at Esterházy Palace

Grigory Sokolov (piano) (DG)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Grigory Sokolov at Esterházy Palace
Haydn: Piano Sonatas Nos 32, 47 & 49; Schubert: Impromptus, D935 etc; plus encores by Chopin, Debussy, Griboyedov and Rameau
Grigory Sokolov (piano)
DG 486 1849   119:29 mins (2-discs)

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Grigory Sokolov wants all his recordings to be live with an audience, because the spark which passes between him and his listeners is his inspiration. The Haydnsaal of the Esterházy palace in Eisenstadt, where these recordings were made in 2018, was the perfect location – not only thanks to its acoustic, but also because it was where Haydn himself frequently performed.

Sokolov is in top form, with some of his chosen pieces having the freshness of a new revelation. The first Impromptu (marked Allegro moderato) begins with such slow deliberation that one fears it will never get airborne, but when it does, the effect is majestic, as details normally skated over yield up their secrets. The architecture of the fourth Impromptu becomes magical.

What Sokolov does with the Haydn sonatas is as fascinating. No. 49 in C sharp minor is seldom performed, presumably because it’s almost provocatively awkward in places. And particularly in its trite little Scherzo, which is a challenge to both players and audience. Sokolov brings resonant grandeur to No. 47, but the real revelation here is the G minor sonata No. 32. I heard him play that at Verbier, but his approach here is strikingly different – intimate and delicately jewelled. He brings to the work a light, transparent touch and a sweetly singing tone, and he varies the pace in ways which might seem capricious, but which never denature the line. The technical inventiveness of the Allegretto never gets in the way of the emotional eloquence which this great pianist finds in it. The encores, especially the Rameau, are a treat.

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Michael Church