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S & H Recital Review

Haydn, Komitas, Prokofiev: Grigory Sokolov (piano). Queen Elizabeth Hall, Sunday, February 10th, 2002 (CC).


Grigory Sokolov is a remarkable musician. His sheer force of personality and the integrity of his interpretations go hand-in-hand with playing of tremendous ardour to leave one breathless with admiration.

The programme reflected Sokolovís wide repertoire. He plays with the lights firmly down so that attention is focussed purely on the musical expression: no reading of the programme notes while the concert is in progress here. This certainly served to lend an intimacy to his Haydn. The long first half was taken up by three sonatas by this composer: F, HobXVI:23; D, HobXVI:27; E minor, HobXVI:34. It was an arrangement that worked well, the restrained F major working its way to the grander, almost Romantic E minor via the quirky (and sometimes quasi-orchestral) D major.

Sokolov was able to bring the audience in to Haydnís world immediately. If one was in awe at his superbly even touch in the first sonata, it was wit that was to the fore in the second. The presto first movement of the E minor was determined in approach. Throughout these Sonatas, Sokolov did not let the momentum of concentration slip for a moment, an impression enhanced by his tendency to hunch over the keyboard; in fact, the only threat to this concentration came from that scourge of modern society, the unmuted mobile telephone.

Sokolovís presentation of Six Dances (1902-6) by Gomidas Vartabad Komitas (1869-1935) was typical of this pianistís searching approach to repertoire. The place of origin of each piece is stated in the title (Yerevan, Vagarshapa, two from Shusha and two from Ezrum). Analogous in intent to the Ďcompositionalí ethno-musicology of Bartůk and KodŠly, Sokolov brought out the improvisational and nostalgic elements of these fascinating pieces. The dances were, it turned out, the ideal foil to Prokofievís explosive Seventh Sonata (in B flat, Op. 83). Designed to be the climax of the evening, this was a stunning account, volcanic in the energy it unleashed: the spiky opening led immediately to forceful, unremitting pounding. The rapt, bittersweet Andante set off the dark colours of the finale (in 7/8 time), with its frightening layered aggregates and rhythmic inevitability.

A succession of encores followed: Couperinís Le Tic-Toc Choc ou les Maillo-fins
Ravelís Toccata, Chopinís Mazurka op.50 no.3 and Chopinís Mazurka Op.63 No.3. As with the late and much-lamented Jorge Bolet, Sokolov gave the impression he just did not want to stop.

Colin Clarke

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