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Sokolov: Brahms – Ballades op.10, Piano Sonata no.3 op.5 (APE)

Sokolov: Brahms - Ballades op.10, Piano Sonata no.3 op.5 (APE)

Sokolov: Brahms - Ballades op.10, Piano Sonata no.3 op.5 (APE)

Composer: Johannes Brahms
Performer: Grigory Sokolov
Audio CD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: APE (image+cue)
Label: Opus 111
Size: 169 MB
Recovery: +3%
Scan: no

01. Ballades, Op. 10: Andante
02. Ballades, Op. 10: Andante
03. Ballades, Op. 10: Intermezzo – Allegro
04. Ballades, Op. 10: Andante con moto
05. Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5: Allegro maestoso
06. Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5: Andante espressivo
07. Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5: Scherzo – Allegro energico – Trio
08. Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5: Intermezzo – Andante molto
09. Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5: Finale – Allegro moderato ma rubato

Sokolov’s fluid playing of melodies is remarkable

After reading raves about him for several years, I finally sat down and listened to Grigory Sokolov, choosing his live recording of Johannes Brahms’ Op. 5 sonata and Op. 10 ballades. I am impressed. Sokolov’s main distinguishing trait for me is the way he plays melodies. It is extremely musical and flexible, almost as if he is playing off the beat, giving the melodic material a fluid, free character unhampered by the grid of the meter. This can be heard in the second subject of the opening allegro of the op. 5 sonata, which is played as musically as I have heard. I have never considered the Op. 10 Ballades (1854) to be first-rate, despite playing the works, but Sokolov makes the best possible case for them. The long final ballade is given maybe the most interesting interpretation I can recall and the opening section of this 4th ballade illustrates how Sokolov achieves his supple melodies. He both anticipates or delays slightly the arrival of the theme relative to the accompaniment to take it slightly off the beat or alternatively he makes a similar rhythmic adjustment to all the notes, shifting the timing slightly away from the expected metric downbeat. I am sure there are other techniques Sokolov uses to achieve these effects but, to put aside analysis, the results are wonderful and speak to this pianist’s talent and thoughtfulness.

Also noteworthy is Sokolov’s unusually dexterous left hand, with which he can play melodies almost as expertly as with the right hand. The rhythmic freedom seen in the playing of melodies extends to the rest of the performance; Sokolov’s Brahms is metrically flexible, willing to bend the bar lines. In large-scale works like Brahms’s brilliant Op. 5 sonata, I often find that creates a problem and so have a preference for performances that bind together long stretches of music with a rigid metric underpinning. Despite my preference, I enjoyed Sokolov’s performance of Op. 5 very much.

These two performances were done live in Paris in 1992 and 93. The audience sound is muted and acceptable. I have the impression that these interpretations are less heavily doctored after the fact by studio outtakes than many recent classical “live” performances so maybe something of their freshness and spontaneity is owed to the fact that they are – you know – actual live performances. Anyway, a wonderful disc that joins the ranks of classic performances of the Op. 5 sonata, a composition which seems to inspire the best from some prominent pianists.

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