The Salzburg Recital
Deutsche Grammophon, 2015
As incredible as it may be, pianist Grigory Sokolov’s immense talent has been ignored for a long time both by Western audiences and recording industry. Born in St Petersburg (then Leningrad) in 1950, he won the International Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of sixteen but, having pursued his career in his native city, he became widely known outside his country only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This delayed recognition has been only partially remedied in recent years with concerts all over the world and album releases. The present, double disc set is a sample of both, being the live recording of a recital at the Salzburg Festival on July 30th, 2008.
The original programme was limited to Mozart’s Sonata in F major, K280, and Sonata in F major, K300, and Chopin’s 24 Préludes, but after them Sokolov generously played six encores that reveal his versatility: Scriabin’s Poème no. 1 and 2, Chopin’s Mazurka in A minor no. 2, Chopin’s Mazurka in C sharp minor, Rameau’s Les Savages and Bach’s chorale prelude Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ from the Orgelbüchlein.
The first part of the recital, consisting of Mozart’s Sonatas, is vibrant and sparkling. Sokolov’s technical precision is mesmerizing and is completely placed at the service of music. The two Sonatas are characterized by joyous exuberance in the fast movements (especially the Presto of K280), while the slow ones seem the external manifestation of inner thoughts with a delicate melancholic vein (as the Adagio from K300). The silvery sound of the piano is both a thread and a unifying theme and its “voice” seems to express more than a single meaning in every note or chord, as if Sokolov is telling the audience that there is always something more complex than what may seem even behind such a simple, small unit.
Mozart’s Sonatas constitute the lively half of the present recording, but Chopin’s 24 Préludes, despite their darker nuances and agitated (I would like to say Romantic) feelings, are equally bright than them, and perhaps far superior in intensity. Sokolov communicates the dusky thoughtfulness of the Préludes with his skilful expressive playing and enlivens them with the endless display of his technical brilliance. It is really easy to admire the varied timbral qualities of his playing and to be hypnotized by the dazzling, silvery colours he finds.
Finally, the six encores are as many short essays of Sokolov’s consummate skill and each of them is a little gem by its own right.
The recorded sound is of very good quality (the audience is virtually absent except for their applauses at the beginning and at the end of each part of the recital) and contributes to convey the idea of a private performance rather than a public concert at the Haus für Mozart. Overall, this a memorable recording of a memorable evening.