Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Piano Sonata in B minor S178 (1853) [33:11]
Années de pèlerinage – Deuxième année: Italie – Après une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata S.161 (1839 rev. 1849) [17:09]
Hungarian Rhapsodies No.12 [11:14]; No.13 [9:56]; No.8 [7:45]
Mykola Suk (piano)
rec. 2004-08, live in recital at the International Keyboard Institute and Festival, Mannes College, NYC
MUSIC AND ARTS CD-1234 [79:15]

Mykola Suk, Ukrainian-born and now American-resident, First Prize winner at the 1971 Liszt-Bartók competition, plays Liszt in the grand manner. Furthermore he thinks orchestrally or, rather, floods his playing with such remarkable sonorities that you might be forgiven for thinking him a one-man orchestra. This is one of the most compelling and amazing performances of the Sonata imaginable. I can imagine quite a few more rectitudinous souls recoiling from the avalanche of extreme dynamics and pellucid withdrawals of tone – but equally I can imagine others stunned by the heady whiff of furnace and poetry summoned up by Suk. It’s the kind of performance that begets superlatives, one way or another.

His digital strength and his stealthy approach to architecture are both palpable. His theatrical flair is also unbounded though it’s never, in that dread Lisztian word, vulgar. No, his is a performance at once overwhelming and characterful. It’s not especially fast. The crux of the matter comes in the stitching together – or stretching apart – of the music’s superstructure. So for Suk, filigree is as important as the sense of powerful projection. The dynamism of the playing, replete with cutting off of phrases, overwhelming chordal flourishes, and sudden vertiginous drops to treble-based refinement, is part of an over-arching schema, and not the result of indulgence. Some narrative phrases are certainly idiosyncratic, but the sense of originality, drama, and fervour is all-enveloping. Maybe in certain elements one can detect a degree of Horowitz’s trenchancy and magnetism in this work, but the conception here is all Suk’s own. Possibly too it’s telling, as recounted in the booklet notes, that Suk hadn’t played the work in public for several years. The tension is incredible, magisterial, overwhelming, the few finger-slips immaterial.

Suk has played the Dante Sonata for many years. In fact he’s already recorded it on TNC Recordings 1401. In this more recent recital, from July 2005, he once again displays his exceptional control of phraseology. He doesn’t trade speed for excitement, instead he builds and relaxes the tension – exactly as he did in the B minor Sonata – and achieves similarly remarkable results. The three Hungarian Rhapsodies play to his sense of colour, texture, refined introspection and vivid theatricality. They were recorded between 2004 and 2007.

Suk is a Lisztian chevalier of the first order, and this disc is a memorable example of his affiliation with the music, and expounding of it. Tremendous!

Jonathan Woolf

One of the most compelling and amazing performances of the Sonata imaginable. Tremendous.