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SOKOLOV Bach Beethoven Chopin Brahms

Bach: Art of Fugue; Partita No. 2
Beethoven: Rondos in C Major and G Major, Op. 51; Rondo, 'Rage over a lost penny,' Op. 129; Sonata No. 4 in E Flat Major, Op. 7; Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101
Chopin: 24 Préludes, Op. 28
Brahms: Ballades, Op. 10; Sonata in F Minor, Op. 5

Naive OP30421 (5 hrs; 5CDs)

Grigory Sokolov was for long a legend and a cult figure, because his recordings (always made live in concert) were not always easy to come by.

To get the picture as at July 2005, it is worth looking at the "official" website with discography, now closed down as having become redundant, with the recordings more generally available at long last.

Now we are spoilt, with the wonderful Paris DVD, and here the second boxed set release of his Opus 111 CDs by Naive. I am a devotee for whom Sokolov can do little wrong, and his live recital recordings do not suffer from audience coughing or wrong notes. Sokolov tours a different programme year by year, and his obsessive preparation leaves nothing to chance. For the concerts he favours darkness and a single light by the piano; see my description of the atmosphere at one of his appearances at the Lucerne Piano Festival in 2001, where he virtually ignored the audience and went on, confusingly, from one work to the next without pause.

Comfortable with the great piano composers, and never seriously eccentric in his interpretations, all these CDs satisfied me as expected, though I do prefer to take Art of Fugue in groups, not straight through. The Brahms Ballades were a special pleasure after being disconcerted by recent performances of them by Emanuel Ax in London and Lucerne this year. The Chopin Préludes are sheer delight, a marvellous through continuity in what is, all in all, my favourite Chopin Opus.

I am pleased to take this opportunity to refer you to the review for Amazon of J Scott Morrison, like myself "a retired physician, student of classical music, collector of recordings for fifty years and once a serious pianist - - ", whose opinion closely mirrors my own reactions to this indispensible box. Morrison writes of "The (Almost) Unknown Major Pianist" that he has been
" somewhat reclusive, tending to play in Europe only - - among the cognoscenti his recitals are sought after and often sold out - - the most marvelous thing about Sokolov's playing is his variety of touch. He can play in a tiny whisper, with a lightning fast leggiero, with deep-in-the-keys but never clangy fortissimo. His legato is legendary and he tends to obtain it more by finger technique than with pedaling. One can argue with his interpretive choices but never with his musicianship or sincerity, and certainly not with his almost inhuman virtuosity - - a very few dropped notes, but on the whole the playing is incredibly accurate as well as being musicianly. - - His Brahms is a bit more Romantic but is not sentimental - - the Chopin is the glory of this set. It sings, whispers and roars as need be. It is ultraromantic and yet is not maudlin or sickly sentimental. This is masculine Chopin."


See Sokolov's early 2006 schedule of his programme of BACH, BEETHOVEN and SCHUMANN (Amsterdam is the only capital city he will visit), where you will also be able to listen to several tracks from his recorded performances.

© Peter Grahame Woolf