album review

Grigory Sokolov, ‘Schubert/Beethoven’




At a time when listeners increasingly demand access to every kind of music at any time of day, the Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov has built his mystique in part through a principled refusal to comply. For over two decades, one of the world’s greatest keyboard artists — some would say the greatest — simply declined to release recordings. It was a glorious thumb in the eye of the zeitgeist. One had to hear him live in order to hear him at all.

All that began to change last year, when the pianist was persuaded to begin releasing recordings of his live recitals on Deutsche Grammophon. The romantic idea of Sokolov is now being slowly replaced with actual documents; The most recent is devoted to late works by Schubert (the Impromptus D. 899 and the Klavierstücke D. 946) and Beethoven (the “Hammerklavier” Sonata) taken from performances in Salzburg and Warsaw, along with a healthy serving of encores by Rameau and Brahms.


There is brilliant pianism everywhere apparent in the new Schubert, albeit with a slightly idiosyncratic quality. But the Beethoven achieves a kind of iconic stature from its opening bars. Tempos are broad and expansive, adding several minutes to the lengths of other classic recordings, without giving short shrift to moments of explosive expression in which the sound is veritably symphonic in its fullness. What lingers in memory, however, is the slow movement, where the line is often stretched just up to its breaking point but never beyond, and where the sound glows as if lit from within. JEREMY EICHLER

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at jeichler@globe.com