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La Scena Musicale - Vol. 4, No. 6

English Version...

Piano - à la Russe

Par Philip Anson / 1 mars 1999

English Version...

CD-OPUS OPS3063.jpg (5936 bytes)Quebec will be visited by some of the world’s most talented - and eccentric - pianists in March, including Anton Kuerti, Ivo Pogorelich, and the Russians Constantin Lifschitz, and Grigory Sokolov.

Pianophiles are particularly excited about the return of the 48-year old Sokolov. As a youngster, Sokolov intended to become a conductor, then switched to piano. "When I was four I had my own little podium, a baton, and records and I used to 'conduct'," he told one interviewer. He started piano studies at 5, and at 16 he won the Moscow Tchaikovsky Competition’s first prize and Gold Medal. His mentor at that time was Soviet pianist Emil Gilels, and his idols included Scriabin’s son-in-law Sofronitsky, Sergei Rachmaninov, Glenn Gould, Solomon, Dinu Lipatti, and Vladimir Horowitz. Despite many LP recordings on the Russian Melodiya label and a busy touring schedule, Sokolov remained a largely Soviet secret until the fall of the Iron Curtain.

Now at the height of his powers, he is finally winning long-overdue North American recognition. In the best Russian tradition, Sokolov’s breathtakingly flexible and powerful technique serve a frighteningly profound soulfullness.

Sokolov’s highly personal interpretations reveal an original thinker, who is also a perfectionist. Sokolov disapproves of music lovers who go to concerts merely to relax. "A concert should be strong, hard, psychological work for both the performer and the audience," he asserts.

Before he plays a note, Sokolov must satisfy himself that the piano is up to his high standards. Needless to say, a tuner is always at hand, but sometimes that isn’t enough, and he has been known to demand a better instrument at the last minute. His Montreal recital last March was an astounding triumph but Sokolov was unhappy with McGill University’s new Steinway. For his return to the same hall on March 21, the Ladies Morning Musical Club is searching for a better instrument.

Sokolov isn’t enamoured of conductors as a species, whom he usually finds uncooperative (his dispute with Charles Dutoit a few years ago means he won’t be playing with the Montreal Symphony any time soon). Not surprisingly, Sokolov’s concerto repertoire is minimal (a few of Beethoven’s, only one Prokofiev, no Schumann or Grieg). His solo repertoire is wider, reflecting his preference for recitals (most of Sokolov's recent recordings on the Opus 111 label are live recitals).

Sokolov specializes in the romantics - Brahms, Chopin, and Beethoven - whom he considers to be his contemporaries. "Contemporary music is music that's alive now. Byrd and Bach are contemporary, but something written yesterday could be dead today." Join Sokolov at the Ladies Morning Musical Club, Pollack Hall, 555 Sherbrooke Street West, March 21, 15H30. Tel. (514) 932-6796/ 487-2822. Box office: (514) 398-4547. The same program will be repeated at the Club Musicale de Québec, Grand Théâtre de Québec, March 23, 20H00. Tel (418) 643-8131.

Another Russian marvel is 22-year old Constantin Lifschitz, who’sCD-PALEXA-LIFSCHITZ.JPG (6469 bytes) controversial Montreal debut on Nov. 24, 1997 (recorded as Palexa CD-0507/8) remains fresh in memory. Consantin Lifschitz was born in the Soviet Ukraine in 1976. He studied with his mother and later attended Moscow’s Gnessin School of Music. As a teenager he recorded several live albums on the Denon label, including a phenomenal Goldberg Variations (Denon CO-78961). The young Russian’s occasionally eccentric, playing reveals a born musician of genius, no longer worried about technical minutae. When Lifschitz plays, he takes us on an entrancing and sometimes disturbing exploration of new interpretive possibilities. Music is Lifschitz’s preferred communicative medium. The pale, bearded youth is extremely shy and refuses to give interviews, so no one knows what makes him tick. Come and experience the enigma! Salle Pierre-Mercure, Centre Pierre-Péladeau, March 12, 20 H00. Tel: (514) 987-6919. Admission: (514) 790-1245.

(c) La Scena Musicale 2002