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Gramophone awards shortList 2015

Three Scriabin Mazurkas from his Op 3 remember Chopin with their characteristic major-minor alternations, the Sixth with its gazelle-like leaps followed by the Fourth and Ninth, alive with an already distinctive voice. In Grosvenor’s hands the A flat Valse becomes one of Scriabin’s most intoxicating creations and so, too, do Granados’s Valses poéticos. And while there is nothing so specific as the abovementioned term ‘spianato’, there is still a sense of a distant relation to Chopin.

Finally, the Schulz-Evler Arabesques  on The Blue Danube, once described as ‘sending fabulous spangles of sound spinning through the air’ in its introduction, followed by Grosvenor’s seemingly inborn elegance and sophistication in the waltz proper. The Albeniz-Godowsky Tango may be less sultry and insinuating than some (I have Cherkassky’s winking and teasing magic in mind) but Grosvenor’s cooler view is exquisite in its own entirely personal way. Then on to a fizzing finish in Morton Gould’s Boogie-Woogie Etude, and a headlong charge with still enough colour and variety to bring even the most staid audience to its feet.

Benjamin Grosvenor may well be the most remarkable young pianist of our time. And for him, choosing from his already extensive repertoire music for future recordings will surely be a labour of love. Decca’s sound is excellent and this is a disc to prompt wonder and delight in equal measure. Bryce Morrison (September 2014)

‘The Salzburg Recital’ JS Bach Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV639 Chopin Preludes, Op 28. Mazurkas – Op 63 No 3; Op 68 No 2 Mozart Piano Sonatas – No 2, K280; No 12, K332 Rameau Les Sauvages Scriabin Deux poèmes, Op 69 Grigory Sokolov pf DG M b 479 4342GH2 (109’ • DDD) Recorded live at the Haus für Mozart, Salzburg, July 30, 2008

Good news for pianophiles everywhere that Grigory Sokolov has, as DG put it, now signed an exclusive contract. This is of course not taking him into the studio or anything as workaday as that. No, he has allowed them to release a live recital from the 2008 Salzburg Festival. But let’s not knock that: it’s difficult to imagine just how much negotiation that must have taken. Comparisons are irrelevant (except perhaps with himself): this is Sokolov we’re talking about. But in this cult of celebrity, his very aversion to the notion has turned him into one – a bit like Glenn Gould in an earlier era.

Of course, all of this would be beside the point if he didn’t produce the goods. It’s an overused word, but he is inimitable. His Chopin Preludes, for example, have no time for the notion of a freely Romantic melodic line being kept in check by a Classical accompaniment. Sokolov’s reading as a whole is remarkably consistent with that of his live 1990 recital released on Opus 111. In both, he begins unhurriedly, as if the music were gently rousing itself into life. But whereas in less imaginative hands the results could seem mannered or overly drawn out, here it’s mesmerising. In the Sixth Prelude, for instance, the upward curling arpeggio has a rare poignancy, while the Tenth glistens but also has an unexpected hesitancy about it. In No 13, the glorious melody of the middle section is given with a freedom that would simply not work in a lesser musician; while in the infamous ‘Raindrop’, Sokolov replaces the constant dripping with a shifting pulse that has a real urgency, albeit an unconventional one. No 19 is a particular highlight, its delicacy quite heart-stopping. He ends as he began, with a tempo for No 24 that has gravitas (not to be confused with heaviness), the effect granitic, magisterial.

The Mozart is treasurable too, though – of course – you have to take it on its own terms. What he does with the slow movement of K280, for instance, gives it a kind of operatic reach and breadth, though never does it lapse into histrionics. And in the finale he brings out the main theme’s stuttering quality superbly, lending the music not just a mercurial quality but a dramatic one too. His delight in the chewy harmonies of the opening movement of K332 is palpable, his phrasing iridescent in its range.

The Salzburg audience (who are generally reasonably silent except for the tumultuous applause) were lucky enough to get six encores. The Scriabin Poèmes are more than usually clear descendants of Chopin in Sokolov’s hands and the filigree is out of this world. By contrast, Rameau’s Les Sauvages is unexpectedly playful and whimsical, and we end with a clear-sighted Bach chorale prelude that is all the more moving for its apparent simplicity. As Sokolov says in the booklet: ‘I play only what I want to play at the current moment.’ Perhaps that’s what gives this set such integrity. Harriet Smith (February 2015)

Chopin Preludes – selected comparison:  Sokolov (10/01) (O111) OPS30-336

‘La fauvette passerinette’ J Anderson Etude No 1 G Benjamin Fantasy on Iambic Rhythm Dutilleux D’ombre et de silence Messiaen Huit Préludes – No 1, La colombe. Pièce pour le tombeau de Paul Dukas. Quatre Etudes de rythme – No 1, Ile de feu I. Catalogue d’oiseaux – No 4, Le traquet stapazin. La fauvette passerinette. Morceau de lecture à vue Murail Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire…(in memoriam Olivier Messiaen) Ravel Miroirs – No 2, Oiseaux tristes Sculthorpe Night Pieces – No 5, Stars Stockhausen Klavierstücke – VII; VIII Takemitsu Rain Tree Sketch II D Young Dreamlandscapes, Book 2 – River Peter Hill pf Delphian F DCD34141 (79’ • DDD)

In 2012, 20 years after Messiaen’s death, Peter Hill discovered among his sketches an

11-minute piece that might have marked the start of a second phase of work on the large-scale piano cycle Catalogue d’oiseaux. In absorbingly detailed booklet-notes, Hill explains the innovative aspects of La fauvette passerinette (1961); and even if (as I suspect) Messiaen might have refined and increased the piece’s contrasting materials in producing a definitive version, Hill’s realisation forms a rewardingly substantial centrepiece to this outstanding recital disc.

The whole point is to put Messiaen himself in a stimulating context; and anyone suspecting from the playlist that this collection of compositions is too much of a miscellaneous ragbag for its own good should be as disarmed as I was by the fresh perspectives it opens up. There is enough music by Messiaen himself to ensure that his presence and impact are never forgotten, not least because he is shown here to have steered French music virtually single-handedly from refined late Romanticism into the harsher world of late modernism. The other composers selected can then be heard responding to either or both of these compositional possibilities – and the explicit links between (for example) Ravel and Takemitsu show that this is far from a simple matter of chronology.

The appeal of the disc is greatly enhanced by the exceptional quality of the recording, with every facet of Hill’s uncompromisingly extensive expressive range vividly captured – and, quite rightly, there is a credit for the piano technician. Arnold Whittall (December 2014)


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