Sokolov casts his spell over the Eternal City

A star was shining brightly tonight over the Parco della Musica in Rome

Sokolov even when the programme announces Purcell and Mozart is an event to cherish.
Who would have thought that anyone could hold an audience in their hand for an entire first half of Purcell on the piano and lasting over forty minutes!?

The beauty of sound and the architectural control are of a truly great artist where every note has a meaning in a chain of sounds that is a living musical conversation.We were treated to a conversation in music of such character and elegance and of course the Sokolov ornaments and trills are something of a legend.That anyone can play them like springs unwinding but with such variety of colour is quite phenomenal but even more so when on a magnificent Fabbrini Steinway D as we witnessed tonight.Sokolov made us believe that this music was infact written for the modern day piano.
Three suites,two of which finishing in a sarabande allowed him to find the necessary variety by inserting ‘A New Irish Tune’ and the ‘Round O’ in D minor (best known as the theme of Britten’s Young Persons Guide to the orchestra).
A noble ground in Gamut opened the concert in great style and Sokolov chose a Chacone in G minor to close this first half.
I think this was the first time I have ever sat through forty minutes of Purcell on the piano but I would gladly have listened to an entire concert of it from the inspired hands and mind of one of the great interpreters of our age.

But there was Mozart in the second half of the programme……
There was such velvet beauty to the sound that I wonder if that master magician,Fabbrini,had done some special work on the piano today.Maybe it was tuned lower than is the norm these days as Curzon was used to do,insisting on having a richer warmer less brilliant sound.
It seemed as though there was a limit to the range of sound – a sort of ‘baroque barrier’ that allowed Sokolov to contain his architecture within the walls of the temple of yore.
Maybe it was just the mastery of Sokolov which has never been in doubt with whatever he sets his sights on year after year …………Mozart and six encores I will describe later …….perchance to dream…..

And dream we certainly did.Who could ever forget the sumptuous luxury of Brahms B flat minor intermezzo?A creamy rich sound and another world from that which we had been treated to in the programme so far.Rich sounds in which the musical line was tender but never sentimental and shone like jewels above an accompaniment that was miraculously fluid.The chorale like contrasting episode was played with the sumptuous rich sound of Philadelphian proportions which had a string quartet quality such was the richness of sound.An overwhelming climax -the first of the evening- dying away into the stratosphere of a world to which only Sokolov seems to have the key.A final note that shone brightly in the distance like a star.

And stars there were too in delicate Chopin Mazurkas that alternated with unusually deliberate performances of Rachmaninov.
The great B flat Prelude op 23 n 2 that rather than the usual scramble was played with aristocratic control.The duet between the tenor and soprano voices in the central episode I have never heard so clearly played as the ‘Hollywoodian’ sounds were cleansed of any unnecessary sonorities and given it’s own aristocratic imploring importance.
The build up to the final great climax I have never heard played with the phrasing that the composer himself indicates but so rarely is ever heard in the more usual scramble to the finish.The ravishing beauty of the D major Prelude op 23 n 4 was indeed the thing that dreams are made of.A gentle almost inaudible undulating bass on which the melodic line seemed to float on thin air.The embellishments etched out with crystalline purity but never interfering with the imploring beauty of the melodic line.A transcendental control with a kaleidoscopic sense of colour that had something of truly miraculous.But then this is why we all flock to hear Sokolov year after year as only he can cast a magic spell on everything he touches.

Of course the Prelude in B minor by Bach transcribed (or even composed !?) by Rachmaninov’s teacher,Siloti,was the final gift to us this year from a unique master magician.

His austere appearance shields a heart of gold that is released the moment his hands caress the keys.

What can one say of his Mozart?It was restored to its simple greatness.Not a note out of place as an operatic performance was played out with the style and control of the genius that Mozart is.A spell was cast from the very first notes and the story that was being played out was of a clarity and sumptuous beauty but all within ‘the baroque boundaries ‘ that had been set even before Sokolov stepped on stage.No one dared interrupt this continuous mellifluous flow as the childlike charm of the Allegretto grazioso built to its final gloriously contained climax only to dissolve into one of Mozart’s most profound utterings.The Adagio in B minor.
It had two thousand people living and breathing with Sokolov as Mozart himself was allowed to speak, miraculously reborn from the hands of this gentle giant.

The Lady in the Van ……….rings a bell so long as you don’t awaken her dog


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