Schubert, Beethoven, Rameau
DG 479 5426
reviewed by Neville Cohn
During the years when I taught music criticism, I would, early on in the course, ask how many of the students had listened to Beethoven’s Hammerklavier piano sonata, either ‘live’ or recorded. Not a single student had done so. And during a lifetime of working as a critic, I recall only a very few occasions when I was able to listen to a ‘live’ account of this extraordinary work.
Its physical demands are so immense and its ideas so complex and taxing in both physical and emotional terms that only a very select few are game – and able – to traverse its dauntingly challenging terrain with confidence.
Decades ago, at a recital in Cape Town, one of a series devoted to Beethoven’s complete 32 piano sonatas, the Hammerklavier was given a performance which was unforgettable – but for all the wrong reasons.
It was only moments into the performance by a pianist who will remain nameless that it became clear – and depressingly clearer as the work unfolded – that physical management of the notes was the sole aim of the performer. So involved in the notational management of the piece was this player that very little attention had been given to revealing the demon lurking behind the printed note. It remained almost totally hidden.
What we were given was a race to the end (which faltered increasingly) in purely physical terms. It was a depressing experience.
But to listen to Grigory Sokolov is to experience music making at the highest imaginable level. Remember: this is no studio recording allowing for bits and pieces of it to be recorded and recorded again until the soloist feels satisfied by that particular succession of notes. No. This is music that in the most frank and alert way brings the listener face to face with the composer.
There’s an immediacy about the playing that that makes one feel that if Beethoven himself had been present at this performance, he might well have wanted to embrace this remarkable Russian. At its most extravert, this is playing that sets the pulse racing; it is a reading of the most authoritative sort – and all the more welcome for its rarity. In this deeply probing, thoughtful reading, listening to Sokolov becomes a journey of discovery, the playing revealing detail and insights only very infrequently encountered in other, lesser, accounts of the work,
There would be very few pianists anywhere on the planet able to match this recording which, in the most meaningful sense, is evidence of greatness. Sokolov makes the unplayable accessible. He reveals its myriad details without losing sight of its overall design as only few can, Sokolov taking the listener into the composer’s idiosyncratic world and makes it accessible, meaningful, unforgettable.
The sonata was recorded ‘live’ at a recital given by Sokolov in Salzburg.
Also on disc are Schubert’s Impromptus D899 and Three Piano Pieces D946 as well as encores by Rameau and Brahms.