The Salzburg Recital

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Chopin,Mozart,Rameau and JS Bach,Scriabin
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Works by Mozart, Chopin, Scriabin, Rameau and JS Bach
PERFORMER: Grigory Sokolov (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 479 4342

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Grigory Sokolov is such a revered presence on the international circuit that his early tribulations at the hands of the Soviet authorities are generally forgotten: for years he endured repeated and arbitrary cancellation of his engagements abroad. So when he observes, as he once did to me, that he starts feeling bad if five days pass without a concert, it’s hard not to make a connection between those troubled early days and his ceaseless urge to perform. And his recordings – like this one from Salzburg in 2008 – must always be live, reflecting a rapport with the audience which can result in an encore section as long as the programme itself. It’s no surprise that the encores here should form the most arresting part of this release.

But the Mozart sonatas with which he begins are also striking, with the sound coming over in bold close-up, and the sparingly-applied ornamentation possessing a crystalline purity. The opening Allegros are unhurried and spacious, while every bar of the slow movements is pervaded by an intimately expressive gravity.

Each of Chopin’s Preludes feels freshly imagined, with some being opened out into an intensely dramatic dialogue, and the contrasts are often extreme: the fury of No. 12 followed by the honeyed grace of No. 13, the snarl of No. 22 by the pastoral peace of No. 23. At times the listener may be provoked to disagree – the middle section of the Raindrop seems to me perversely plodding – but ‘compromise’ doesn’t exist in this musician’s vocabulary. When it comes to the encores, the rarely performed Scriabin pieces are nicely balanced by the Chopin ones, the Rameau hints at a completely different sound-world and the Bach comes like a benediction. For an unpatched live recording there are remarkably few smudges.

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Michael Church