Piano - à la RussePar Philip Anson
/ 1 mars 1999
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
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
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’s 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.