Grigory Sokolov has become something of a legend in his own time, partly because of the rarity of his recordings. He does not make studio recordings and is generally opposed to recordings of live concerts believing solely in the primacy of the untouched concert experience as the sole communicator. This disc is therefore very special and was made abiding by strictly imposed recording conditions. More of those later.
Sokolov won the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition in 1966 at just the age of 16. Since then he has toured the world with one immaculately prepared concert program each year. Each following year items from that program are deleted and others substituted to make up the next year's program. Once an item has been deleted it remains so for years, or for ever.
This is an unusual approach to music making but has allowed Sokolov to refine his interpretations to a remarkable degree. Even more remarkably there is not a trace of routine as a result of this notionally repetitive approach to programming. On the contrary the performances are astonishingly `live' in their feel with a wide-ranging emotional span and with an immaculate technique that encompasses the merest whisper to the strongest fortissimo without ever once exceeding the tonal capacities of the piano.
As a result we are privileged to hear an unbroken sequence of masterly interpretations and performances in the two hour concert. It starts with three of Beethoven's Piano Sonatas, 9, 10 and 15, played without a break and given with utterly engrossing concentration.
The Prokofiev 7th Sonata is probably as near definitive as one will ever hear and easily holds its own with Richter or Pollini for example. In between there are 6 atmospheric dances for piano by the Armenian composer, Komitas relying on their sinuous lines and relative harmonic simplicity for effect.
The concert ends with short encores by Chopin, Couperin and Bach. These are all magically played with the Siloti arrangement of a Bach Prelude being especially beautiful.
The recording had to be made in such a way that Sokolov would be entirely unaware of cameras, microphones or any other recording activity that would distract him from total concentration. In addition the hall is in complete darkness with only Sokolov and the piano spot-lit.
These limiting recording conditions must have been very hard to cope with but the only signs of this on the DVD are the reduced options for cutting between camera shots (a great bonus allowing for more sustained viewing), stereo sound resulting from using fewer microphones at some distance presumably, and a very low level of playback volume. This is easily remedied by increasing the playback volume by about 6 DB which results in good stereo reproduction. The imaging is completely satisfactory and a remarkable achievement given the circumstances.
In conclusion, this is a unique occasion captured with a recording quality that is well able to convey its specialness. The performances fully justify Sokolov's legendary cult status and are all on a very exalted level. However well one knows these works there will certainly be more to learn from these fine interpretations. This therefore, in my opinion, has to be a 5 star issue and should be snapped up while it is still available.
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