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There was a time when most pianists would pale when compared with Grigory Sokolov. Many considered him the world’s greatest living pianist. But with this new release you hear him retreating from his early, prizewinning past into an introspection that will warm the hearts of those who eschew highwire virtuoso acts. If Igor Levit is the voice of our current age, Sokolov speaks to us from another, increasingly remote time. There is a determined sobriety, and even when instructed otherwise he is more measured than con brio.

The legendary all-Russian command remains but now it emerges almost apologetically, making you wonder whether an artist can be ‘too’ musical. Intent on avoiding the vainglorious and superficial, he becomes lethargic. His pensive alternative to Beethoven’s perky and mischievous charm in, say, the scherzo from Sonata No 3 in C major Op 2/3 is beguiling and, like Kempff, there is ‘always air round his sound.’ But the opening of the Sonata in E minor Op 90 is so devitalised that the fundamental impulse is lost. Here and in his many encores, you are reminded that (as with Rosalyn Tureck and Jorge Bolet), slow is not always divine. Sokolov’s love of details makes you wish for ‘more matter, with less art’. All performances are live, given before a capacity and adoring audience.

BRYCE MORRISON Read the full review on Agora Classica


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