Surely an appropriate venue for another of Sokolov's stellar adventures last weekend was Luxembourg's extra-terrestrial Philharmonie which always looks to me as if it could have been shipped in from a distant planet overnight. On Saturday evening a packed auditorium gave an object lesson in self-restraint, especially in the first half when there was not so much as a murmur. The public were there to listen, and those familiar with the second half of the programme were soon to discover that Sokolov was the best possible helmsman to steer them around the far flung corners of Beethoven's final farewell to the keyboard sonata.
But firstly we were to visit environs of a more domestic nature, although Haydn's sonatas could never be described as commonplace or everyday. Certainly they are a lot closer to home than Beethoven's celestial wanderings but they overflow with ingenuity, charm and wit. In Luxembourg Sokolov was busily dipping into his paintbox and introducing so many colours into Haydn's imagery that it seemed as if everything I'd heard up until then had been a mere outline.
After the break Beethoven's kaleidoscopic Op.90, a gem of a sonata, prepared the way for the towering majesty of Op.111. It's now nearing the end of its triumphant reign and Sokolov has met the challenges of this sonata with the highest possible degree of technical and intellectual mastery. I hope he will set himself another great challenge next season; he's still on his way to the summit and is nowhere near ready to choose an easier path.
The piano responded admirably to the stringent demands made of it but displayed signs of fatigue towards the end. Sokolov showed it no leniency however and drove on into the teeth of the wind, finishing on his own terms with a heart-wrenching Chopin prelude Op.28/15 and a particularly robust Op.28/20.
From Luxembourg I travelled to the Bavarian city of Regensburg for Monday's recital, which took place in the university campus's Auditorium Maximum. I had already been told it was not purpose built, it was inescapably ugly and the acoustics were awful, so my expectations were rather low. The building is constructed of vast expanses of concrete and the deafening echo of voices in the entrance hall presented an unpromising prospect. I could do little but expect the worst, so I geared up for disappointment and took my seat. As Sokolov began the first Haydn sonata the contours of the music sounded blurred, indistinct, but thanks to the mysteries of the human ear, my own hearing adapted within minutes and the sound became one of pleasing resonance and perfect clarity. I often wonder how artists feel about performing in venues they believe will not do justice to their efforts and whether sometimes they are discouraged from going the extra mile. As you may imagine, there was nothing half-hearted about Sokolov's playing in Regensburg. He gave his all, and much more. Within those solid concrete walls he became an almighty force of nature whose Op.111 was never played better. After the final airy notes of Op.90 fluttered around us like scraps of confetti Sokolov unleashed upon his audience the most extraordinary torrent of power and emotion, drawing us inexorably into Beethoven's turmoil. The first movement was visceral in its intensity, but as Sokolov reached the last few bars heaven came close and we knew that very soon we would be communing with the angels. designer collections for wedding in short
How strange that in such an unlikely place Sokolov produced what was possibly for me the greatest Op.111 to date, and what an education it was to watch this man at work. At times his fingers seemed so deeply embedded in the keyboard, it was a wonder he could ready himself for whatever came next. The six encores were the same as usual, except that he excluded the Chopin Nocturne Op.32/1 and reintroduced the Griboyedov waltz.
I don't think I will ever pre-judge a concert venue again; certainly not when Sokolov is in residence. I walked into the Audimax with a heavy heart but came away with a nourished and uplifted soul.