Nothing seems left to chance in a recital by the pianist Grigori Sokolov (St. Petersburg, 1950), but the result is always surprising and different. Luca Ciammarughi, in his recent book about the great pianists of the last thirty years, Da Benedetti Michelangeli alla Argerich (Zecchini), confesses the fascination that saw him rehearse in Milan. Sokolov, halfway between an ogre and a magician, obsessively repeated the same passage of Ravel. He played it always with identical perfection, but he stopped again and again to reflect on the keyboard. Sometimes he got up, walked around the stage and returned to the sidewalk to attack him again. That insistence did not respond to a technical problem of the pianist, neither mechanical of the instrument or acoustic of the room, but to the intellect and the spiritual. In search of another dimension. That "realm of ideas", with which Ciammarughi titled his chapter, and that can never be caught on records.
Sokolov is one of the most habitual pianists in the Spanish cycles for more than two decades. Come back for your tour, like every year, with a Steinway selected for the occasion and your trusted tuner, who tunes the instrument before the recital and during the break. But also with its well-known scenography and ceremonial. Moderate temperature and attenuated lights, which favor loudness and concentration. A cold and distant attitude with the audience, with those ways of butler that unfolds before sitting in front of the keyboard. And his legendary generosity, which leads him to always grant six tips in all his recitals; not one more or one less, no matter what happens.
Works by Beethoven & Brahms. Baluarte Foundation. Season 2018-19. Pamplona. Baluarte, February 26.
The Russian pianist no longer gives interviews. Practice a curious invisibility, which permeates the eloquent documentary about his life Nadia Zhdanova, entitled A conversation that never occurred, included in his last record release at Deutsche Grammophon. There we also heard several poems of his wife, Inna Sokolova, who died in 2013, who reflect on the art of her husband and the daily trance of going on stage: "Stepping on the Milky Way and leaving behind the earthly life". But Sokolov says many things playing the piano, since he never schedules in the long term and always chooses the compositions that he most wants to interpret at every moment. And even more in the final tips. His recital in Pamplona, yesterday in Baluarte, ended with the prelude entitled Steps on the snow, from the first book of Debussy. Thirty-six bars impregnated with sadness, cold and loneliness that the Russian pianist raised to the commotion. The piece ends with an arpeggio, in morendo, which concludes in a chord of re minor open and disconcerting in pianississimo. Sokolov colored it admirably. And we saw him disappear in the mist.
It was the perfect culmination to his concert. I had previously played five tips that alternated two examples of Schubert with two pieces of Rameau. First we listen to the Fourth impromptu op. 90 D. 899, of the Austrian composer, with that admirable combination of gravity in the song of the left hand and lightness in the flutter of the right, but ideally constructed with the contrast in C sharp minor of the central episode. Then he exercised the popular flexibility with the exquisite and racial Hungarian melody D. 817, written by Schubert in Zseliz, in 1824. De Rameau included two usual fragments of his Nouvelles suites de pièces of harpsichord: The Savages Y The call of the birds, with its customary display of metaphysical baroque trills. And the fifth tip was again, once again, the Waltz no. two, of Griboyedov, which this year sounded a more melancholic point.
The program of the recital included from a virtuoso and juvenile Beethoven to the Brahms Contemplative of maturity. It opened with the Sonata opus 2 no. 3, of the composer of Bonn, whose allegro with initial brio sounded more introverted than concertante. The reflexive worked much better in the adagio, which was one of the summits of the night, with wonderful contrasts within the central episode in my youngest. The scherzo was an ideal example in Sokolov of how to get more with less, as it compensated for a slower tempo than usual with admirable control of the joint. For the allegro assai final he reserved his most symphonic record and also his greatest technical skill in the triple trills. The pianist continued with the 11 trifles op. 119, without stopping to receive applause, because he seemed interested in reaching these curious Beethovenian miniatures of maturity. Sokolov sought to give them unity. But they were the last ones the most outstanding of the set and, especially, the no. 11, with that initial phrase, which sounded like never innocently and cantabile, and it was the takeoff of another stellar moment of the night.
The two series of pieces, opus 118 and 119, that close the piano catalog of Brahms, formed, in the second part, the main novelty of the program that Sokolov will play in his recitals throughout Europe until the end of summer. After starting it in the Italian town of Carpi, on February 10, and having started its Spanish tour in Valencia, last Sunday, it will continue tomorrow in Bilbao, Oviedo (Saturday), Madrid (Monday, March 4) and will end two days later in Barcelona, although later he will return, on June 20, for a single recital in Zaragoza.
In Pamplona, the Six pieces for piano op. 118 with intensity both in the dynamics and in the rubato. It was tempered more in the no. two, with a central section admirably dialogued in F sharp minor, which was another unforgettable moment of the recital. He then promoted the ballad of no. 3 next to the remaining pieces with the same roundness of sound and masterful game of dynamic and agógicos contrasts. But there were two moments to be highlighted: the pastoral tone of the central gracious allegretto, no. 5, and the serene apocalyptic construction of no. 6, where Sokolov put his dynamic range to the limit, risked and even missed notes that sounded true revenge of fate. The pianist accepted the applause between the two Brahmsian cycles, but he immersed himself, without further delay, in the Four pieces op. 119, that endowed of greater unit without skimping in the display of contrasts. There were delicacies, yes, like the waltz that appears in the central section of the no. two or the gracious spring of the no. 4, but also an increasing intensity that reached the climax in the final coda, in E flat minor, with the pianist outside of himself and willing to sacrifice all the necessary notes to find the spirit of this music. The Sokolov dimension.