Tuesday, July 16, 1996
Beethoven Festival
Russian pianist enjoys harmonious relationship with NAC
By Steven Mazey Citizen entertainment writer

With one concerto down and one to go, the Paris producer who is recording Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov and the National Arts Centre Orchestra in a series of concerts says she's delighted with the results.

"I am very happy. It is everything that we hoped," a beaming Yolanta Skura said Friday after Sokolov's performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 with conductor Trevor Pinnock and the orchestra. As it had the night before, the performance at the Beethoven Festival drew bravos and a standing ovation.

Skura is founder of Opus 111, the French record label that has won dozens of awards. The company will also record Sokolov's performances of Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 with the orchestra on Thursday and Friday. The two concertos will be featured on a CD scheduled for release in the fall of 1997.

Sokolov, 46, has recorded highly praised solo piano discs for the label, but the Ottawa performances mark his first concerto recordings for the company.

"Trevor Pinnock is very sensitive to Mr. Sokolov's playing and the orchestra has been very good," says Skura, sitting in the tiny basement room at the NAC where she has been monitoring the concerts through headphones, sitting over the desktop-sized mixing board she brought with her from Paris.

"Mr. Sokolov is not always easy to accompany. He is very free in his playing and he has a lot of variety in his rhythms. But it was very good. They were all breathing together."

Sokolov, who on stage appears stone-faced and serious, speaks little English but "had a big smile when he finished the concert tonight. He very much enjoyed it," Skura says.

The orchestra's first live recording for commercial release went off without any technical hitches. After a reminder from the stage that the concertos were being recorded live, the audience was unusually well-behaved on both nights, with coughing and watch-beepers at a minimum.

Sokolov performed with Pinnock and the NAC Orchestra in the summer of 1994 and was so pleased with the collaboration that he asked Opus to arrange a recording.

While Skura admits it would have been more convenient to record with a European orchestra, part of her company's philosophy is to trust artists to know what works.

"Mr. Sokolov and Mr. Pinnock had a wonderful collaboration. They worked with each other very well. It is important to have that so that you can make the best performance possible. You cannot do that if you put a pianist and orchestra together simply for the sake of a recording.

"Trevor Pinnock knows this orchestra so well and the orchestra knows him, so you get something exciting and alive. The musicians play with passion," she adds.

Skura likes the way Pinnock conducts "with a smile. He does everything with kindness, even in rehearsals. So there is a warmth and happiness in the music."

She says Sokolov has promised a "new and different interpretation" of the much-loved Emperor concerto

Thursday and Friday, in a concert that also includes Beethoven's Symphony No. 7.

"This is his favourite Beethoven concerto and he has been thinking about it for many years. He is a visionary artist and I'm sure it will be exciting. He told us there will be surprises."

Sokolov won the Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition in 1966, when he was only 16. Only in recent years has he begun performing extensively in North America, but he has been winning rave reviews. One Detroit critic described Sokolov's performance as "by a wide margin, the most original, technically dazzling and altogether electrifying performance of the Tchaikovsky B-flat minor Piano Concerto in my 27 seasons on the aisle."