He digs hard but never finds gold.
I have often heard the pianism of Grigori Sokolov recommended as an antidote to the barn-storming circus antics of the likes of Lang Lang, Evgeny Kissin, and Ivo Pogorelich. Given the corpulent Russian's discography, it's easy to see why. In addition to a healthy dosage of Chopin—music that any serious professional pianist is expected to study thoroughly and record—the canonical works of the "three B" Germans feature prominently: Bach's Italian Concerto, Goldberg Variations, and Well-Tempered Clavier; Beethoven sonatas and Diabelli variations; Brahms sonatas and late piano works. If such obvious intellectual posing interested me, I'd be willing to join the throngs who have raised him up on a pedestal as the paragon of a Russian musician's musician, one who "puts the music and composer's intentions above his own personality."
Read the full review of Sokolov: Chopin Sonata No. 2, Preludes, and Op. 25 Etudes.
If only a bear could sometimes have gentler paws.
Documentary filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon may have described Sviatoslav Richter best when he labeled him an "enigma." Though possessing a robust physique and one of the most wondrous pianistic facilities in the history of recording, Richter epitomized the neurotic artist, often appearing fumbling, even physically maladroit, both in interviews and on stage. Despite his almost self-defeating perfectionism, he preferred setting live rather than studio recordings to disc. And when he did so, the results ran the gamut from strangely unspontaneous to revelatory. Hot-cold. That's how quickly his blood temperature could change, even in the same performance.
Read the full review of Richter: Live Recordings From England (BBC Legends).
A piano demagogue who fails to control Chopin.
Read almost any article about Artur Rubinstein's playing and, in addition to seeing epithets like "ideal Chopinist," you're likely to encounter the adjective "aristocratic" or "patrician." I wonder whether such critics and reviewers ever stop to think about the meaningless fluff they spew. Not just because it's hyperbolic and unreflective, but because, in this case, it's false. Rubinstein, a self-styled humanitarian and pianist of the people, was anything but "aristocratic"—and the by-and-large directionless, limp, and tepid playing on this disc is decidedly plebeian.
Read the full review of Rubinstein: Chopin, Impromptus and Other Works.