The Sublime Perfection of Sokolov

Pianistic Perfection of Sokolov in Rome tonight
It is always a guarantee of a special occasion when one sees Angelo Fabbrini in the audience.
Or even on stage as he was last time I saw him at Carnegie Hall preparing one of his marvellous instruments with meticulous attention to the artists wishes just as a great doctor would do for his patients.

                                         Sokolov with Angelo Fabbrini
On that occasion as with last night in London it was for Maurizio Pollini.
Tonight it was together with his faithful disciple Nino Bianchi for the recital by Grigory Sokolov in Rome.
Angelo who I had met forty years ago when I telephoned to dealers in Italy to buy a Steinway “D” for our newly opened theatre in Rome.
I drove over to Pescara where I was greeted by Angelo in his studio on the seafront in Pescara on the Adriatic coast – flat like Norfolk!
A studio full of fantastic instruments lovingly prepared by this man with an obvious passion.
The trusted friend of so many great pianists.
The trusted technician in his early years of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli (who was also godfather to his children).
Michelangeli was notoriously meticulous not only about fine tuning and well being of pianos but also the fine tuning of his Ferraris !
Martha Argerich regularly locks herself into his studio all night to prepare for her concerts.

                                      In the green room with Sokolov
Of course I bought the most beautiful instrument at a very special price as he knew it was going to be in a our newly opened theatre in Rome.
We had the same passion and a bond was created then that has lasted all these years.
He would only give me the piano after he had spent a month fine tuning it especially for the theatre and then working on it when it had taken up residence.

                                                        Sokolov and Angelo Fabbrini
The piano has never moved from the theatre where it was inaugurated by my old teachers Guido Agosti and Vlado Perlemuter.
Followed over the years by names that have passed into history:Annie Fischer,Moura Lympany,Andor Foldes,Shura Cherkassky,Gyorgy Sandor,Tatyana Nikolaeva and many more not only established artists but those that were yet to establish themselves :Janina fialkowska Angela Hewitt,Leslie Howard and Roberto Prosseda are just a few.
I had heard Sokolov only on two other occasions.
Always in Rome as he avoids London and the UK since a problem arose with his visa.
Was it not Segovia who passing through passport control the innocent (not to say ignorant) official told his supervisor that this old man says he plays the banjo!
What a difficult life it can be to move freely for these artists that are requested world wide for their great unique artistry!
Brexit watch out indeed!
If you ask most very fine young pianists today who is the greatest of them all, many will reply Sokolov .
So it was with great anticipation that a few years ago I was glad to be able to hear him play Schumann Humoresque.
A very fine pianist but I was certainly not in agreement with my young friends.
He announced the Hammerklavier a year later and I thought I could not possibly miss any pianist who dares play this great monument in public.
It was one of the greatest performances that I have heard.
Easily on a par ,if very different from the recent ones of Murray Perahia or the past ones of Serkin,Richter,Pollini or Brendel.
So I was a bit perplexed when the programme this year was eventually announced,long after we had all bought our tickets.
                    Three Haydn Sonatas and the Schubert Impromptus op 142.
The public had trusted their idol and filled very generously this over two thousand seat hall .
In London they had been less generous for Gilels when he announced a programme of Schubert and Shostakovich in the Royal Festival Hall.
A programme that will remain with me for the rest of my life for the energy and sheer beauty in the Schubert Moments Musicaux and the little A minor Sonata .
Even a memory slip in Shostakovich’s mammouth 2nd Sonata could not dampen the aristocratic conviction and sheer animal energy of this much missed artist.
Hardly surprising that when Gilels’ early teacher had invited Rubinstein to hear a little red headed boy play he declared that if he ever came to Europe he may as well pack up his bags and leave!
Rubinstein and Gilels I would say could conjure such beauty from the piano that has rarely been equalled or surpassed………that is until tonight!
From the very first notes of the little G minor sonata n.32 ,that I have only heard in concert from Richter many years ago, to the final notes of the C sharp minor sonata n.49 Hob 36 forty five minutes passed in complete silence as we were all mesmerised by the sheer beauty of the sounds that were being conjured from the piano.
Every note was made to speak as one would not have thought possible.
All with a charm and grace that belies the appearance of this “gentle” giant.
Even the almost Beethovenian outburst in the B minor Sonata n.47 Hob 32 were included in a cocoon of sound.
A bubble that was never allowed to burst but was filled with all the character and personality that these neglected masterpieces can behold.
A heartrending question and answer between the hands with the gentle murmuring of sounds in the first of Schuberts’ last Impromptus was matched by the simplicity with which he sang the melody in the second .
A great wave of sound enveloped the middle section where we were not aware of notes just waves of the most beautiful sounds before the magical return in all its simplicity of the original melody.
The Theme and Variations that can in lesser hands seem rather out of place.
Here one was at last made aware of what is meant by Schubert’s heavenly length.
The Allegro scherzando of the fourth did not have the animal frenzy of Serkin or Fischer but it was a miracle to behold for the sheer perfect sense of balance between the hands.
I could not believe that forty minutes had passed .
Time had indeed stood still.
But Sokolov was warmed up and a magic had been created that no one wanted to dispel just yet.
The first of what were to be six encores followed in a seemingly marathon walk for Sokolov from the stage entrance to the lonely piano in this vast hall created by Renzo Piano.
Schubert’s fourth Impromptu from his earlier set op 90 was sheer magic.
Like water from a stream the notes that cascaded and alternated with the supremely delicate chords.
Can the central section ever have been played with more subdued passion?
A perfect sense of balance that allowed the melodic line to shine through over a passionately beating heart.
Rachmaninov came to mind in the old recordings that we have had to be content with all these years.
What can one say about the pianistic and musical perfection of his Rameau Les Sauvages and Le Rappel des Oiseaux.
These have long been marvelled at by a world that has been at Sokolov’s feet for many a year.
Little did I expect such an epic performance of Chopin’s little “Raindrop” Prelude.
The gradual build up in the central section was quite overpowering.
Always totally in context it allowed the innocent reappearance of the melody to shine through so delicately after such a vision of doom.
The last two encores from his Russian repertoire .
A little waltz so obviously a Chopin that had visited the vast spaces of the Russian steppes (Grigolis I think as I was told by the Maestro himself afterwards).
A whispered page of Scriabin sent us all home with an idea of what “Beauty in the eye of the beholder” really signifies

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