Neither of Dimitris Sgouros’s parents was musical, nor his siblings, yet Dimitris Sgouros was one of the most extraordinary prodigies of modern times. He gave his first public recital aged seven at the Public Theatre of Piraeus in May 1977 and the same year entered the Athens Conservatory where he studied with Maria Herogiorgoiu-Sigara. He graduated with a first prize and gold medal in 1982 when he was thirteen. He also gained a professor’s and performer’s diploma, and between 1978 and 1982 won first prize in four piano competitions, two in Athens, one in Bulgaria and one in Italy. It was in Bologna that Sgouros gave his first recital outside of Greece in April 1981. He then continued his studies at the University of Maryland with Dr Stewart Gordon and at London’s Royal Academy of Music with Guy Johnson, gaining one of the highest marks ever given for his Performer’s Licentiate examination. Two months before Arthur Rubinstein died he heard Sgouros and was reported as saying, ‘I thank God for keeping me alive so that I would be able to hear with my own ears Sgouros play. He is the best pianist I have ever heard, including myself.’
At the age of eleven Sgouros began performing with orchestras, the first time with the Chamber Orchestra of Cannes and Philip Bender with whom he played a piano concerto by Mozart. Mstislav Rostropovich took an interest in Sgouros and conducted at his debut in New York at Carnegie Hall in April 1982, when the twelve-year-old boy played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30. Also in 1982 he played his first solo recital in the United States at the Newport Music Festival and made his first New York solo appearance at Avery Fisher Hall in November. In the same year he performed in Switzerland, West Germany, Holland and Czechoslovakia; and in March of the following year, Rostropovich again conducted Sgouros in the same work at London’s Royal Festival Hall where he made his London recital debut in November. Of the Rachmaninov concerto Paul Griffiths wrote in The Times that ‘Mr Sgouros played with a dignity and with purity…In any event, there are enough mature musicians around. What Mr Sgouros has to offer is something much rarer: it is complete virtuoso competence in the artless accents of a child.’ In 1984 Sgouros toured America and Japan and at this stage in his career, aged fourteen, he had forty-five piano concertos in his repertoire.
Sgouros has played with all the major orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, London Symphony, London Philharmonic, BBC Symphony, Dallas Symphony and NHK Symphony Orchestra of Japan. Although his career slowed after he matured into an adult, Sgouros has sustained a performing and recording schedule, understandably not as high-profiled as during his wunderkind years. He has toured the USA, South America, Russia, Japan (in 1984, 1986 and 1993), Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand (which he has toured five times), and most of Europe. In 1997 he played Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30 at the Moscow Conservatory to celebrate the 850th anniversary of the city of Moscow. This was his debut in Russia, and the following year he made his debut in Romania. In 1999 he made his first tour of South Africa and in April 2000 made his solo debut at New York’s Carnegie Hall playing Schubert’s Impromptu in B flat D. 935 No. 3, Schumann’s Fantasie in C major Op. 17 and Brahms’s Piano Sonata in F minor Op. 5. New York Times critic Antony Tommasini found the Schumann ‘curiously restrained’, but of the Brahms he wrote, ‘He was at his best in the Brahms Sonata…Though not particularly probing, his performance had flashes of youthful virtuosity and magisterial poise.’
Aside from music, Sgouros also has exceptional abilities in the field of mathematics which he studied at Athens University and St Peter’s College, Oxford. He is also fluent in many languages including English, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and German.
Sgouros signed with EMI in 1983 when he was fourteen. His first disc was of Schumann’s Études Symphoniques Op. 13 and Brahms’s Variations on a theme of Paganini Op. 35. When Sgouros played the Brahms work in Berlin in May 1983 a critic wrote ‘…the miracle of the evening: not…since Egon Petri have I heard such light brilliance, elemental power and verve.’ He then recorded Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor Op. 30 with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra and Yuri Simonov. This is an extraordinary performance by any standards, but from a boy barely fourteen years old it is almost unbelievable.
There were only two other recordings for EMI: a disc of seven of Liszt’s Études d’exécution transcendante and Mephisto-Waltz No. 1 recorded in June 1984, and one of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23 and his Concert Fantasy Op. 56 with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Walter Weller, which was recorded in April 1986. The Tchaikovsky disc is impressive, shot through with shafts of sensitivity and colour if lacking somewhat in a lightness of touch. At the age of seventeen Sgouros was dropped by EMI and he did not appear on disc again until he recorded both Brahms piano concertos with the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra in 1993. A reviewer in The Gramophone found that ‘…moments of genuine fluidity alternate with laboured execution’. A few other discs have appeared, including live performances from Australia and a recording of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major with the Slovenian Philharmonic Orchestra. Sgouros’s most recent disc was issued by Elysium Recordings of New York and contains works he played at his Carnegie Hall recital of April 2000.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).