Two pianists, one an experienced virtuoso known for his precision and interpretive acumen, and the other a recent major competition winner (the Queen Elizabeth, from 2007) who has all the attributes to become one of the leading pianists of her generation. Both come from the former USSR and both share the Prokofiev 7th in common on their recordings, which are otherwise almost totally dissimilar in repertory. Under such circumstances, can a winner be declared? Maybe.
Grigori Sokolov is stylistically quite similar to Maurizio Pollini: both possess big techniques and are rather straightforward interpretively, rarely imposing their personalities on the music before them. Sokolov delivers a knock-out Prokofiev 7th, giving it an epic bigness, a sense of drama that only a few other pianists have conveyed so convincingly before. Bernd Glemser, on Naxos, and Boris Berman, on Chandos, have given us powerful accounts of this work, as have Pollini and Barry Douglas. Vinnitskaya presents a frenetic Prokofiev 7th, a performance brimming with anxiety and crushing momentum. But her tempos tend to be a shade too fast, especially in the outer panels. Still, her account is convincing and may well have wide appeal. For instance, her second movement (Andante caloroso) is almost two minutes faster than Sokolov's, and has a greater sense of flow. Sokolov here is a little finicky, perhaps a tad too measured. Still, Sokolov has a better Prokofiev 7th in my book.
Elsewhere on his DVD, the three Beethoven sonatas are all given splendid readings, readings that can compete with almost any others that I've heard – and I've heard more than I can remember. The other pieces on the disc, the Chopin Mazurkas, the two Couperin numbers, the Bach Prelude and the Vardapet Dances, are treated to the same precision and interpretive insight. The camera work and sound are excellent. The Sokolov disc gets an easy recommendation.
Vinnitskaya turns in a fairly fleet Rachmaninov 2nd Sonata. It's hard to compare her with the old Cliburn, for example, since Cliburn was hampered by horrible sound reproduction. Thibaudet has a fine reading on Decca, but the Vinnitskaya can hold its own against most, maybe all comers. Her Sonata Reminiscenza is played with feeling and with less a sense to link Medtner to Rachmaninov. The Gubaidulina Chaconne is a jarring dissonant work of nine minutes which Vinnitskaya delivers with utter conviction. I doubt this work will enjoy a better recording any time soon. Vinnitskaya's disc was already given a Diapason d'Or award from the prestigious French publication Diapason. Her CD also merits a strong recommendation.
So there you have it. Oh, who wins? Hmmm… I would give Sokolov a very slim edge. Very slim. But of course, both discs are eminently worth purchase.
Copyright © 2009, Robert Cummings