After last week's review of Alexandre Tharaud's new recording of Chopin's preludes, this compilation of re-releases comes at the right time. A discounted 2-CD set brings together three live recordings by Grigory Sokolov from the 1990s, all of them referential. The Russian pianist, the unanimous Gold Medal winner at the 1966 Tchaikovsky Competition, is a quasi-enigma, known both for his intense, accomplished recitals and an elusive air of mystery. Sokolov is playing op. 28 again in a few recitals this spring and summer (alas, not here in the United States), and that is the work that is the most intriguing here. An almost stifling air of morbidity hangs over many of the movements (one of the dreariest Raindrop preludes I have heard), quite appropriate for this death-infused set. One of the striking things about Sokolov's playing is an unabashed rubato, perhaps old-fashioned but pleasing to hear. In a live situation he takes almost no pauses between movements, which is captured in spite of the CD tracking.
Chopin, Preludes (op. 28), Sonata No. 2 (op. 35), Etudes (op. 25)
(re-released January 29, 2008)
Scores: Chopin's First Editions Online
The funeral march sonata (B-flat minor, op. 35) is generally good, especially its gloomy yet steadily propelled third movement (and its muted, music-box middle section). The fourth movement's restless triplets are more spiky than whispering (the marking, for what it's worth, is sotto voce e legato), and the final B-flat minor chord has an A-flat in the middle somewhere (missed note or overtone?) that fades away before the rest of the chord. Sokolov is at his least technically assured in this recording of the op. 25 etudes. The playing is still nothing short of extraordinary, but there are some cracks in the foundation, after all. At $14.99 for two discs, serious Chopin lovers are almost obliged to buy it.