Sokolov's fierce intensity snaps strings

Pianist's early-found talent has reached its peak

by Michael Klingbeil

In the tradition of bringing fine professional performers to the Oberlin stage, the Artist Recital Series delivered strongly with a Tuesday evening solo concert given by renowned pianist Grigory Sokolov. The Russian born pianist, only having been allowed to perform outside of his country since the 1980s, has in recent years developed a phenomenal word wide reputation.

With his extraordinary talent already recognized at age five, his entry into the Leningrad Conservatory in 1960, and his first major public appearance at 12, Sokolov then went on to win First Prize at the Third International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition held in 1966. On Tuesday the opportunity came to hear Sokolov performing on the stage of Finney Chapel with a power and expressiveness befitting this experienced and gifted player.

The concert began with a set of eight preludes and fugues from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier starting with No. 9 in E major, BWV 878 and ending with No. 16 in G minor, BWV 885. Sokolov played with incredible ease and fluidity which he balanced carefully with a certain visceral energy and tenacity of purpose. He moved effortlessly from the stately contemplative preludes to the energetic intricate fugues. As is crucial in these works, Sokolov treated each polyphonic line on its own terms while utilizing thoughtful shaping and judicious pedaling to weave them into a coherent whole. Particularly memorable from this half of the concert were the exciting F major and F minor fugues, the rapid G major prelude and the soothing G minor prelude.

Following a brief intermission the program moved into the 19th-century repertoire with a selection of four Nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin. Although difficult to believe, Sokolov seemed even more intensely engaged then during the first hour of playing. The performance was thoughtful and delicate, never rushed, giving plenty of time for those piquant chromatic harmonies to sink in. In the virtuosic C minor Nocturne there was a hint of the untamed Sokolov which he would eventually unleash in the following piece, Igor Stravinsky's Trois mouvements de Petrouchka.

Taken from the music Stravinsky originally wrote in 1911 for the ballet Petrouchka, this work demonstrated Sokolov at what seemed an absolute maximum of skill and power. The highly dramatic narrative of the Petrouchka story was in excellent hands as Sokolov carried the audience in an instant from quirky dance melodies to pounding chords and thunderous bass notes. As the piece increased in difficulty, Sokolov seemed only more fierce, eventually breaking a string toward the latter half of the piece. The concert concluded to hearty applause and standing ovations which were recognized with a very short encore, no doubt abbreviated due to the ill condition of the piano. This was a most impressive concert by a most outstanding musician.

Copyright 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 17; March 8, 1996

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