Grigory Sokolov, piano = Live in Paris (2002/2009)

by | Nov 15, 2009 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Grigory Sokolov, piano = Live in Paris (2002/2009)  

A film by Bruno Monsaingeon  
Program: BEETHOVEN: Sonata No. 10 Op. 14 No. 2; Sonata No. 15 Op. 28 ‘Pastorale’; Sonata No. 9 Op. 14 No. 1; VARDAPET: Six Dances for Piano; PROKOFIEV: Sonata No. 7 Op. 83; CHOPIN: Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 63 No. 3; Mazurka in F minor Op. 68 No. 4; F. COUPERIN: Le Tic-Toc Choc or Les Maillotins, Soeur Monique; J. S. BACH: Prelude in B minor (Siloti, BWV855a)  
Studio: Medici Arts DVD3073888 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 1.77:1 for 16:9 color
Audio: PCM Stereo
Length: 2 hours 3 minutes
Rating: *****

Grigory Sokolov was born in Leningrad in 1950 and at the age of 16 in 1966 was awarded the Gold Medal in the International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, and although he has been a very busy recitalist he has not had much love for the recording studio.  Difficulties with touring in recent years have limited his appearances to Europe, though not the UK in 2008 and 2009 due to its draconian visa requirements.  Two sets of five CDs are currently available on the Naïve label at budget price, and they are now joined by this DVD of a complete recital filmed in 2002 by Bruno Monsaingeon.

Sokolov prepares a recital programme which he gives through the year; in 2002, his recitals opened with three sonatas by Beethoven played with hardly a break between them. The depth of tone he achieves is remarkable; whether pianissimo or fortissimo the focus of the sound remains sharp.  And there are no distorting effects made for cheap interpretation, either.  The listener is left feeling this is how Beethoven should sound, and judging by the reaction of the Paris audience, they were mightily impressed. Beethoven playing does not come better than this.

After the intermission he played Komitas Vardapet’s Six Dances for Piano, eighteen minutes or so of quietly effective music. Vardapet (1869-1935) was an Armenian composer of Turkish birth and these peaceful dances belie the horrendous anguish the composer was to suffer later. Prokofiev’s Seventh Sonata is a huge contrast, spiky writing scintillatingly played, and pianistic power on show, again without overplaying the instrument.

Sokolov’s encores have included earlier composers, for example Froberger, Byrd and Rameau, as well as Bach and Couperin heard here. The two Couperin pieces impress with their fragile delicacy, Sokolov’s command of the keyboard breathtaking in these miniatures. The two Chopin Mazurkas are finely played, too, with expert give and take. The recital ends with a Siloti arrangement of Bach’s BWV855a.

Filming was done on the understanding it would not impinge on the pianist whatsoever, so with minimal lighting much as Richter liked to have, and few cameras, Monsaingeon’s expertise is impressive with its simplicity. Sound quality, in stereo only, is excellent; on the occasions one wants to listen and not watch it is easy to let the DVD load and then press “play” much as one would do with a CD.

Now that Gilels, Michelangeli and Richter are no longer with us, Grigory Sokolov must be considered as the greatest living artist of his instrument, a superb musician whose programmes inspire and reward his audiences like few others. This film belongs in every piano enthusiast’s collection and will reward undiminished with repeated listening and watching. Truly, Sokolov deserves his description as a giant of the keyboard.

— Peter Joelson

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