Russian pianist guest at the Alte Oper

Frankfurt ⋅ Those ritualized processes that characterize Grigory Sokolov’s piano recitals seemed particularly condensed during the most recent performance by the pianist, who was born in 1950 in what is now St. Petersburg. The encores, in Sokolov’s past performances in the Alte Oper Frankfurt, always came in half a dozen and often took up the scope of another half of the program, this time, too, kept exactly six numbers. But they mostly offered brief musical highlights, from late Brahms to Chopin’s Prélude in C minor. This fitted in with the official programme, which Sokolov had only committed to immediately before the piano recital, and which also consisted exclusively of small-scale works – in addition to Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Eroica Variations” in E flat major, Op. 35, and the three Intermezzi, Op. 117 by Johannes Brahms those eight fantasies which, in Robert Schumann’s “Kreisleriana” op. 16, first come together to form a larger context, less formally than internally.

The 15 variations, including a final fugue, that Beethoven composed on the theme that he was to use as the basis for the finale of his third symphony, the “Eroica”, and that is found first of all in the piano variations from the bass lines, which Sokolov naturally articulated with impressive clarity and developed, were not designed very heroically here. He set the basic tempo as slowly as seemed reasonable without compromising on the stringency of his game. This was almost painful to experience in the garish treble suggestions of the third to last variation. The contrast to the gently swinging first of the three Intermezzi op. 117 by Johannes Brahms could hardly have been greater afterwards. As always with Sokolov, all of this was of course perfectly calculated, regardless of whether he articulated a middle voice with gentle finger pointing or just differentiated the agogic of his playing so finely that his precise work on the temporal progression led to the impression of an abolition of the time to awaken.

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