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Alexander Nikolayevich SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Étude, op.8, no.12 (1894) [2:21]
Sonata No.2 (Sonate-Fantasie), op.19 (1892-87) [12:15]
Étude from Three Pieces, op.2 (1886) [2:34]
Four Mazurkas from op.3 (1888-89) [11:23]
Sonata No.5, op.53 (1907) [11:04]
Nuances from Four Pieces, op.56 (1909) [1:05]
Poème from Two Pieces, op.59 (1910) [1:31]
Sonata No.9, ‘Messe Noire’, op.68 (1913) [8:09]
Valse, op.38 (1903) [5:12]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
rec. Västerås Concert Hall, August 2006. SACD hybrid
BIS SACD1568 [57:23]

“I create the world through the play of my moods,
With my smiles, my sighs, my caresses,
My anger, my hopes, my doubts.”
What Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin said about himself applies in equal measure to Yevgeny Sudbin – a pianist I have yet to hear in recital but one who has achieved the highest acclaim on account of just the handful of his releases on BIS. Gramophone is throwing Editor’s Choice awards at him and David Hurwitz seems to have fallen in love. When I listened to his premiere recording of Scarlatti sonatas (reviewed on this site by Don Satz and Evan Dickerson) I was deeply impressed, too. Anyone who can hold a candle to Mikhail Pletnev’s supreme Scarlatti earns my immediate respect and admiration. Mr. Sudbin has arrived at Scriabin – via Rachmaninov and Medtner – and he convinces again at both intellectual and emotional levels.
It is so, even if you don’t have “visions of light, golden ships on violet oceans, and bolts of fire” during his or anyone else’s Scriabin performance … I don’t. But then, I don’t subscribe to the pseudo-synæsthete Scriabin’s vision-fuel of choice – LSD. Anything that’s already as exciting in combination with Irish Breakfast tea does not need additional substance abuse to become a thrilling ride through Scriabin’s wafting and swirling, climaxing and relaxing soundscapes.
Not so much for comparative but ‘paired’ listen I pulled out Pletnev again. His is the ideal complement to Sudbin … and not only because there is no overlap between them. Both couple a few sonatas with other, miscellaneous works. Sudbin plays sonatas nos.2, 5, 9, Valse op.38, Étude op.8, no.12, and various other items from Scriabin’s sizeable non-sonata output.
The best known work is undoubtedly the Ninth Sonata – “Messe Noire”. Scriabin did not give that name to his sonata – it was attached by Alexei Podgaetsky in reference to its baleful nature as compared to the open, light mysticism of the 7th sonata that Scriabin had dubbed Messe Blanche. At 8’09, Sudbin is nowhere near as fast as the somewhat banging Michael Ponti (VOX, 7’05). Neither is he as tempered as Alexei Lubimov in his reading sated with insightful calm and relaxed muscularity: ECM, 8’45 – a recording I am happy to see having been equally thought of as one of the gems of recorded pianism by Colin Clarke in his review. Bold and powerful playing is combined with frequent Messiaen-like touches here, but perhaps not achieving the fleeting ‘light and shadow-sodden’ atmosphere of Haakon Austbö (Brilliant, 8’20), or the disquieting storm that Sviatoslav Richter conjures (Richter, Music & Arts, BBC Legends). The investment which Sudbin brings to this sonata is evident in his growling and panting during the most vigorous parts. Sudbin leaves the sonata to run out in the most inconclusive of ways, which is of course apt. The liner-notes, written by the fiercely learned young man himself, suggest that this is no accident.
After the sinister, eerie Ninth Sonata – whether of Satanist origin or intent or not - the two Études sound like Chopin. But with the care which Sudbin accords to all the smaller pieces here they become revelatory. They offer depth beneath whimsy, a foreshadowing of things to come beneath their rather unassuming exterior. And yet, what a delightful change it is to plunge from the mazurkas directly into the perverse Fifth Sonata. This Sudbin plays with charged, carnal and prurient vigour. Or listen to the organic pantonalism of the op.59 Poème. If ever you were looking for the missing link between Debussy’s Préludes and Schoenberg’s op.11 Klavierstücke, here it is, courtesy of 91 wonderful seconds with Yevgeny Sudbin.
Fans of Scriabin will find this voluminous and rich sounding disc an essential addition to their collection alongside Horowitz, Pogorelich, Austbö and Pletnev. Newcomers to Scriabin are also encouraged to sample. It will be a mind-alteringly sublime experience at best – and at worst it could not be more ill than hell … not much at any rate.
Jens Laurson


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Seen & Heard
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