From the age of seven, Grigory Sokolov studied piano with Leah Zelikhman at the Leningrad Conservatory’s special school for children, and first performed in public at the age of twelve. He continued his studies with Moisei Khaifin at the Leningrad Conservatory; and having won first prize in the Russian National Competition at the age of fifteen, a year later, when only sixteen, he won the prestigious International Tchaikovsky Competition.
Political constraints kept Sokolov within the then USSR for a long time, although he did play in New York in the late 1960s; but latterly he has played in Europe, Japan and the United States to great acclaim, giving recitals at New York’s Carnegie Hall as well as the Musikverein in Vienna, in Rome, Berlin, Helsinki and Copenhagen. In 1999 Sokolov gave a recital at the Edinburgh Festival.
Sokolov has worked with many of the great orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Concertgebouw, Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Philharmonia in London with such conductors as Neeme Järvi, Charles Dutoit, Kyrill Kondrashin, Yevgeny Svetlanov and Riccardo Chailly. He has a wide and interesting repertoire which ranges from the keyboard music of Byrd and Rameau (and even Palestrina) through Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Brahms, Ravel, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Scriabin.
After his win at the Tchaikovsky Competition, Melodya recorded Sokolov with the USSR Symphony Orchestra and Neeme Järvi in performances of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23 and the Piano Concerto No. 2 in G minor Op. 22 by Saint-Saëns. These recordings have appeared on compact disc as Volume 3 of Early Recordings of Neeme Järvi, issued by BMG in 1997. All of Sokolov’s later recordings have appeared on the French label Opus 111. Many are taken from live performances, a practice that Sokolov now prefers, but his recording of Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge is a Russian studio recording from 1982. It is a performance of great integrity and architectural grasp. Sokolov excels in this type of cerebral, spiritual music and brings the same qualities to other great works of the repertoire such as Beethoven’s ‘Diabelli’ Variations Op. 120, and Schubert’s Piano Sonatas in G major D. 894 and B flat major D. 960. He makes his Chopin a very personal experience, but always plays with intelligence and conviction. The recording of the Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 35, from the Salle Gaveau in Paris in 1992, is particularly impressive for its ebb and flow of pulse, but the Op. 25 Études, although recorded live in 1985, contain a few audible edits from patching sessions. However, whatever Sokolov plays, one is always struck by the fine quality of his sound, the intelligent grasp of the work, and the strength of character he brings to the music he is playing. As one American critic recently wrote, it is a ‘…kind of pianism, musicianship and artistry one thought had vanished forever’. For all his shunning of publicity, Sokolov is now in a position to take his place as one of the greatest pianists of his generation.
© Naxos Rights International Ltd. — Jonathan Summers (A–Z of Pianists, Naxos 8.558107–10).