Tuesday, February 22, 2022

La Palau de la Música, Barcelona

Guest Reviewer, Guy Holloway

The buzz before a recital by Grigory Sokolov is tangible, not least the fact that many have come from afar. A good number of Londoners were in the audience, as was Gabriela Montero who flew in specially. Sokolov, as is his wont, was a mere silhouette, illuminated only by lighting focused on the mosaic muses behind him.

In Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ Variations, Sokolov sunk his hands into the opening E-flat chord: a full-throated cri de coeur which shook, even startled. After teasing out the pp bass line, Sokolov revelled in the arrival of the Theme, which was gorgeously played, dancing balletically. The Variations were tied to the work’s inner precision, Sokolov simultaneously capering across the keyboard, relishing the syncopated accents, the repeated notes, and all the hand-crossing. Dynamics were scrupulously observed and the piece emerged as a thing of beauty, and ultimately of joy. Most striking was the minor-mode Variation XIV, which unfolded as a prayer, and which drew two-thousand people to breath as one. The Fugue, totally engaging in its rhythmic vitality and clarity, led into an extraordinary moment of vocal drama. Up in the dress circle, some children were fidgeting in their seats, which became too much for one woman, who stood up and shrieked “Fuera! A tu casa!” (get out! go home!). The audience gasped, Sokolov continued, and the family sidled out.

In Brahms’s Opus 117 Intermezzos, one was conscious, perhaps too conscious, of music being deconstructed. If the first was taken fluidly enough, the second, and especially the third, were played with such stillness that notes seemed individually suspended in time and space; nevertheless there was a keen sense of hearing familiar works anew, explored. Throughout there was Sokolov’s trademark iridescence in tone production which remains the stuff of dreams.

In Schumann’s Kreisleriana, Sokolov was the embodiment of Eusebius, and his command of pianississimo and of micro-reverberations was a marvel. However, if one is looking for febrile agitation and impetuosity, then the Florestan side was on this occasion somewhat muted, memories of Horowitz, Argerich and others not dispelled.

As ever with Sokolov there were numerous encores. Brahms’s G-minor Ballade (from Opus 118) was played lovingly in the grand manner, yet without bombast. Then Scriabin’s E-minor Prelude (from Opus 11) worked its magic and displayed Sokolov’s Russianness. Then Rachmaninov, the final two Preludes from Opus 23. A Sokolov favourite next: Chopin’s C-minor Prelude, begun fff rather than ff, perhaps Sokolov at his most wayward. But no issues with the final encore, the purest of music-making: J. S. Bach’s chorale Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BWV 639), arranged Busoni, played with the gentlest of pulses, and which led us to that place where thoughts exist but words fail.

Fifteen Variations & Fugue in E-flat, Op.35 (Eroica Variations)
Three Intermezzos, Op.117
Kreisleriana, Op.16

Previous Guy Holloway reviews include http://www.colinscolumn.com/evgeny-kissin-in-barcelona/ and http://www.colinscolumn.com/benjamin-grosvenor-in-barcelona/.