“In the opinion of many critics, Sokolov is the most outstanding living pianist today”, wrote Wojciech Bońkowski in 2006, providing in this way a very accurate sketch of the Russian pianist. It would be interesting to know how many fans he has, and how many opponents, who disagree with his way of looking at the art of interpretation. Fortunately, no-one makes such rankings, although, who knows – perhaps the 21st-century world, wallowing in absurdity, will soon cross a similar, ridiculous border? One thing is certain – Grigory Sokolov is one of a select group of artists whose art excludes indifference or “cool” objective distance. In fact, such a clear polarisation of judgements arouses curiosity in every announcement of Sokolov’s recital. And the name of the pianist alone suffices to fill virtually any concert hall – even when audiences remain ignorant of the content of the programme – after all, the latter is usually announced at the very last moment, which probably gives the organisers a headache.
Sokolov’s pianism is original in every aspect. And we are not talking about its purely technical aspect – for him, it is only a tool for “creating” a work of art, which is the final sound of each piece. His repertoire appears to be rather limited – Sokolov categorically avoids taking part in any competition that might be labelled as “I perform opera omnia of composer X or Y”. For the most part, he adheres quite consistently to the oeuvre of the 18th and 19th centuries, and he feels a natural affinity with the Russian composers of the first half of the 20th century. However, he also explores a keyboard repertoire comprising the likes of William Byrd or Froberger. Who knows, perhaps the encores are the most interesting part of his programmes, given that Sokolov is able to interweave Rameau’s works with Schubert’s miniatures, or combine Debussy with Brahms and Rachmaninov. And because he also performs many, often spontaneous encores, such extras frequently make up a third of the entire concert, captivating audiences with his diverse musical range. Above all, Grigory Sokolov should be praised for his absolute dedication to his music, for his desire to capture the elusive essence of each piece. Performing in an extraordinary setting, in dimmed lighting, Sokolov seems to be an unearthly “medium” through whom art speaks, or whose very essence is revealed.