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Seen and Heard Recital Review

Scarlatti, Brahms, Chopin, Rachmaninov: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano), Wigmore Hall, 11th February 2005 (MB)


Yevgeny Sudbin, the 25-year-old St Petersburg born, but London resident pianist will soon become an artist in demand, I suspect. This recital, his Wigmore Hall debut, showcased music spread across three and a half centuries, and in almost every instance Sudbin was a revelation at the keyboard. If there could be no questions regarding his poetry – the beauty of his hand placement is something to behold – or his musical instincts, there were occasions when his pedal control was insecure, sometimes woefully so during Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin, Op.22. The reason for this loss of control one can simply ascribe to Mr Sudbin’s willingness – a notable one – to stretch the dynamics of the music to a quite perilous degree. Pianissimos had a near unsustainable breadth, and in this respect he tended to live somewhat dangerously.


It is rare to hear such a young pianist programme Scarlatti sonatas, but Sudbin’s choice to do so was inspirational (indeed, his playing was quite the equal of Mikhail Pletnev in this composer). He chose wisely (from a choice of almost 555 sonatas), with the K 197, which began the recital, proclaiming a distillation of meditative grace, followed by the disparate moodiness of K 434 with its conflicting emotions of bliss and rage. K 429 melted unambiguously into an improvisatory kaleidoscope of keyboard colour, and K 545 had a sense of tension that belied its comparatively short length (3 minutes). The final two sonatas programmed – K 87 and K 24 – mixed polyphony with torment and uninhibited playfulness, recreating a sense of unembellished enjoyment, tempered with poignancy, at the keyboard. Throughout, fingerwork was meticulous, as was the pianist’s ability to project instrumentation from these miniatures: the castanets of K 435 and the guitar strums of K 24 were judicious but present.


Brahms’ Fantasias Op.116 are short pieces, but Mr Sudbin’s performance of them transcended some quite breathtaking technical and interpretative hurdles. From the measured assurance of the Scarlatti, Sudbin ravaged the keyboard throughout the Brahms with tempestuous argument, volatile projection and tender introspection. There was no question of Sudbin taming his attack – especially during the opening Capriccio Presto energico, which was delivered with blistering and barnstorming self-confidence. Yet, the tragedy and moonlit mystery of the pieces (notably the Intermezzo) also evolved with a golden glow. Chopin’s Ballade No.4 in F minor, Op.52 resolved itself into a taut performance that had both the rhetoric of drama and an intensity of expression streaming through it. If the performance itself did not quite efface memories of Evgeni Kissin in this work – and he alone amongst today’s pianists bring a unique sense of technical command to this music – Mr Sudbin allied a solid technique with some deeply ardent poetic insights, notably avoiding an over-reliance on stasis in the opening’s thematic repetitions. A linear, rhapsodic sweetness reminded one of Cortot, as did a bel canto quality to his phrasing, and a fidelity to Chopin’s scoring (the tenuto at bar 56, for example) was refreshing.


Not quite in the same league as any of these performances was a rather mixed reading of the Variations on a Theme of Chopin. Only intermittently did Mr Sudbin bring life to this sprawling, episodic work (no.15 did shine, however), and some of the scherzando writing did not emerge with the utmost clarity, despite dextrous finger control. Dynamics were occasionally stretched to breaking point and erratic pedal control did not always benefit the underlying lyricism he was at pains to phrase or stress.


Yevgeny Sudbin displayed many facets of great pianism in this recital, perhaps best summed up in his Scarlatti, a disc of which is released by BIS on 28th February (BIS CD 1508). That disc, like so much of the pianism on display here, is marked by quite effortless keyboard control, a sense of pianistic colour and mood, a rhythmic tension that grips from first note to last and a quite fabulous control of phrasing. Whether the music is inward looking (as Scarlatti often is, sometimes within the same short sonata) or more overtly virtuosic, Yevgeny Sudbin brings to each of the 17 sonatas on this disc a microscopic sound world that retains the miniaturism of each whilst placing them in the context of an evolving spectrum of diversity, from simple harmony to complex improvisation. What this disc does without any failings whatsoever is to make this music sound progressive, and to give it a musical language that pre-empts the greater complexities of Brahms and Chopin. Such is the quality of the playing, that one has to look to the great interpreters to find pianists equal to Mr Sudbin’s achievement: just as the rhapsodic brilliance of his Chopin recalls Cortot, so his Scarlatti recalls Pletnev. An outstanding disc, that mirrored an often exceptional recital.



Marc Bridle


 



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)