Rhinegold Photo credit: Klaus Rudolf

Claire Jackson

Review: Grigory Sokolov, Malta International Music Festival

10:13, 30th April 2018

Haydn Sonatas Nos 32, 47, 49; Schubert Impromptus D935 Op 142, Nos 1-4 (27 April)

Grigory Sokolov shuffles on to the stage, half an hour later than advertised. He barely acknowledges the audience – one gets the impression he is firmly ‘in the zone’ – as he takes his seat, flips his coat tails over the piano stool, and proceeds to give one the best piano recitals this writer has had the pleasure of hearing.

Haydn’s Sonata No 32 begins with a restraint that is almost tentative; the much-lauded Sokolov sound is rich, a product of a flawless press-release touch. The Russian pianist sits almost completely still – from the back it looks like he is not playing at all – as all the energy is focused into his arms, economically transferred to fingers. The grace notes of the sonata fall like their namesake, while featherlight trills decorate carefully considered melodies.

We had been asked not to applaud in between the sonatas, and so Nos 47 and 49 follow seamlessly. The delicacy of the figured bass in the former work feels like the proverbial iron fist within a velvet glove; the power exquisitely calibrated. The complexity of colour in No 49 forms a bouquet of sound: vibrant gerberas, pastel carnations, nodding sunflowers and fresh white roses.

The roses were painted red as Sokolov turned his attention to the Schubert Impromptus in the second half. Often considered a sonata in their own right, Nos 1-4 became a sort-of unfinished singular work, as the Sokolov sound fills the cavernous Republic Hall in Valetta, Malta. The filagree melodies give way to cross-handed lines and a darker, spicier undertone. The undulating broken chord sequence feels like a precursor to minimalism. No 4 is so fluid that it was almost like a sweep of a wind chime. It is difficult to imagine fingers on a keys could make such a liquid sound.

Sokolov is a pianist who is completely subservient to the music; other than a few cursory bows, our presence felt unnoticed. That is until the encores, where the artist offered no fewer than five additional works, taking the recital way beyond the allotted time and more than making up for the late start.

Sokolov appeared alongside other Russian heavyweight pianists at the sixth instalment of Malta International Festival: Nikolai Lugansky and Denis Kozhukhin also performed at this year’s edition (15 April – 1 May).


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