Presto News - 10th March 2017
Grigory Sokolov performs piano concertos by Mozart and Rachmaninov
Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov is notorious for his dislike of performing concertos, citing the lack of available rehearsal time with the orchestra and the general loss of control in contrast to a solo recital. So, when I heard that he had authorised two concerto recordings from the archive to be released, I was expecting something pretty special.
We begin with Mozart's Concerto No. 23 in A major, K488. Having previously heard Sokolov's performances of some of the sonatas, I was already aware of his delicate touch when it comes to Mozart, and this performance is no exception. In the outer movements, the clarity and refinement of his playing is matched by the effortless grace of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra under Trevor Pinnock in this 2005 Salzburg recording.
It's in the second movement, however, that for me the real magic lies: at a daringly slow tempo, his way with Mozart's melodies is mesmerising, and I almost wanted it to be even slower so that I could bask in the joyous sounds for longer! The yearning clarinet and bassoon motifs that follow are made even more plaintive at this speed. This is an absolute gem of a movement.
We then jump back in time ten years, to a 1995 performance of Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto live from the BBC Proms, with the BBC Philharmonic under Yan Pascal Tortelier. It all begins assuredly enough: Sokolov shapes the opening melody beautifully, and his performance of some of the more fiendish passages (and this concerto has plenty of those!) is highly impressive.
And then, something extraordinary happens.
About halfway through the first movement, the performance suddenly kicks into another gear altogether. It's partly due to the nature of the music, of course, which continually builds in intensity, but it's performed with a ferocity and fervour like no other account that I have ever heard. This leads to a cadenza that I can only describe as jaw-dropping. No prizes for guessing that Sokolov opts for the more difficult alternative cadenza that Rachmaninov wrote, and for its entire three-minute duration I was staggered by what I was hearing.
There's no let-up in the second movement either: it's ostensibly a slow movement and yet the barrage of notes never seems to stop! The waltz passage towards the end of the movement is almost unbelievable when it comes to the speed at which Sokolov is able to despatch his repeated notes.
One of the many conditions that Sokolov insists on with these live releases is that they must be issued untouched, with no patching, and so, in the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that there is the occasional wrong note. Moreover, the piano itself goes slightly but audibly out of tune as the performance continues (this doesn’t surprise me, given the veritable onslaught that Sokolov subjects it to!). It's not a deal-breaker by any means, but it is most apparent in, for instance, the recapitulation of the main melody in the first movement, and some of the gentler passages in the second movement.
Did I notice it? Yes. Did I care? Not in the slightest. Quite honestly, (and please forgive my overeffusiveness!), this performance is so terrifyingly and monumentally phenomenal that mere wrong notes and de-tuned instruments can do nothing to dent its effect! If ever there were a testament to the thrill and power of a live performance, it is surely this one, and even listening to it at home on disc, such was the excitement of the closing bars that I couldn't help but stand and cheer along with the Albert Hall audience!
Anyway, once I had controlled myself and sat back down again, I was pleased to watch the accompanying DVD documentary, which includes interviews with colleagues and friends alongside archive footage of previous performances, not least an excerpt of the 16-year-old Sokolov playing Liszt's La Campanella at the 1966 International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition, at which the jury, headed by Emil Gilels, unanimously awarded him the gold medal. It’s a fascinating insight into a truly great pianist.
Mozart & Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos
Grigory Sokolov (piano); Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Trevor Pinnock (Mozart); BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Yan Pascal Tortelier (Rachmaninov)
Sheet Music – Special Offers on now
Over on our sheet music site, we now have three special offers - as well as our continuing offer on Universal Edition titles, we are also offering 25% off publications by Durand, Salabert, and Eschig, and up to 25% off Oxford University Press titles.
There's a huge range of music on offer - Universal Edition's publications of music by Mahler, Berg, Janácek, and others (including contemporary composers such as Boulez, Ligeti, Stockhausen, and Berio), Durand's catalogue of French composers such as Saint-Saëns, Ravel, Messiaen, and Poulenc, and OUP's range of choral and educational titles alongside authoritative editions of Vaughan Williams and Walton.
Kurt Moll (1938-2017)
A master of many different types of repertoire, Moll made roles from all over the operatic canon his own - Wagner, Verdi, Beethoven, and Mozart - though many will remember him primarily as a vivid and nuanced Baron Ochs in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier.
A full obituary can be found here.
Presto Interview – Edna Stern on the piano works of Hélène de Nervo de Montgeroult
Pianist Edna Stern's latest album focuses on the compositions of a little-known composer from Revolutionary France - Hélène de Nervo de Montgeroult seems in many ways to have anticipated the innovations of Mendelssohn and Chopin, but has been largely forgotten by history.
David talks to Edna about Montgeroult's style, legacy and importance for our view of this period of musical history.
Presto Interview – Sir John Eliot Gardiner revisits the St Matthew Passion
Sir John Eliot Gardiner's first recording of Bach's St Matthew Passion was and remains a benchmark account of that choral masterpiece, and it's a work that Gardiner has only grown more familiar with over the past three decades. Last year, at the close of the Monteverdi Choir's 2016 tour, he recorded it again in Pisa's magnificent cathedral.
Katherine spoke to Sir John about how his approach to the work has evolved since that first recording.
James Longstaffe - firstname.lastname@example.org
10th March 2017
New on Naxos - March releases
Our dedicated Naxos New Release Brochure returns this week, where you can browse, read about, and listen to excerpts of all the exciting new Naxos releases out this month.
Highlights this month include piano concertos by Saint-Saens, symphonic works by Wagner, and world première recordings of concertos by Jennifer Higdon. (The 'Buy Now' links will bring you back to the recording on the Presto Classical website.) Find out more...
Bach, J S: St Matthew Passion, BWV244
James Gilchrist (Evangelist), Stephan Loges (Jesus), English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Sir John Eliot Gardiner
A new live recording from Sir John Eliot Gardiner of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, recorded in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as part of the Monteverdi Choir’s 2016 tour. This performance was given on 22nd September, and was the closing performance of the tour.
British Tone Poems Volume 1
BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Rumon Gamba
Rumon Gamba launches a project to bring neglected symphonic poems by British composers to wider attention. This first volume presents some of the most individual, yet rarely heard, tone poems written in the early twentieth century, by composers ranging from Vaughan Williams and William Alwyn to Balfour Gardiner and Granville Bantock.
Benjamin Appl: Heimat
Benjamin Appl (baritone), James Baillieu (piano)
A former chorister of the famous Regensburger Domspatzen, baritone Benjamin Appl is one of the most interesting artists of the new generation, with a great voice, charming personality and magnetic stage presence. This debut album with Sony Classical presents songs from different countries related to the theme of “Heimat” (homeland).
Borodin: Piano Quintet & String Quartet No. 2
Goldner String Quartet, Julian Smiles (cello), Piers Lane (piano)
Russia in the nineteenth century had little need for chamber music - no Parisian-style competitive quartetting here. But out of this very isolation came a small, but nonetheless mighty, handful of works: those by Borodin are among the finest. Piers Lane and the Goldner String Quartet revel in what they find.
Hommage à Boulez
West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, Daniel Barenboim
Hommage à Boulez celebrates the association between Daniel Barenboim and Pierre Boulez, featuring a selection of Boulez's most iconic works in live recordings from the BBC Proms (London, 2012), and Boulez’s 85th birthday concert (Berlin, 2010), all performed by members of the West Eastern Divan orchestra.
Macmillan: Stabat Mater
The Sixteen, Britten Sinfonia, Harry Christophers
This disc features the world premiere recording of James MacMillan's Stabat Mater. The Sixteen also gave the world premiere of this work at a series of concerts in October 2016. The Stabat Mater is profoundly shaped by MacMillan's beliefs, but it is a work with deep roots and a universal message, a celebration of both tradition and radical renewal.
Bel Canto: Voice of the Viola
Antoine Tamestit (viola), Cedric Tiberghien (piano)
This album unveils the charms of a repertoire that delighted Parisian concert halls and salons throughout the 19th century. It demonstrates how the viola emerged from the violin’s shadow thanks to virtuoso playing, now resuscitated by the talent of Antoine Tamestit and Cédric Tiberghien in pieces which showcase the famed singing tone of Tamestit's viola, a 1672 Stradivarius, loaned by the Habisreutinger Foundation.
Handel: Three Operas from Glyndebourne (5 DVDs)
This set brings together three of Handel’s most compelling works for the stage in lavish Glyndebourne productions featuring period-instrument accompaniment from the renowned Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. David McVicar directs an all-star cast in Giulio Cesare, while in Robert Carsen’s fun-filled transformation of Rinaldo, lacrosse sticks and flying bicycles lend the fantasy’s warriors and witches contemporary chic. Finally, Barrie Kosky’s Saul stole the 2015 Festival season and had critics raving.
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