Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C minor, K491 [30:20]
Ludwig Van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 [35:08]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
rec. June 2011 (Beethoven), May-June 2012 (Mozart), Orchestra Hall, Minnesota, USA
BIS BIS-SACD-1978 [66:16]
With a sizeable roster of recordings on Bis, including exceptionally fine discs of Scarlatti and Scriabin, Sudbin's discography is growing at quite a pace. This latest offering is part of a proposed Beethoven cycle - Concertos 4 and 5 have already been released to great critical acclaim (review) - which threatens to be derailed. Sadly the cycle seems unlikely to be completed, at least with the Minnesota Orchestra. The conductor, Osmo Vänskä resigned his post in Minneapolis in October 2013, one year after management locked out the musicians in a dispute over contracts. There has been talk, or maybe it is rumour, of completion of the cycle with the Tapiola Sinfonietta, so watch this space.
The Third Concerto of Beethoven has been aptly paired here with Mozart's Concerto no. 24, K 491. On face value this is a very apposite choice, as they share the same key signature, and the Mozart work was a source of inspiration to Beethoven in the composition of his own C minor concerto. Ten years separate the two. Mozart composed his in the winter of 1785-86 and premiered it himself in the April 1786. Beethoven began sketches for his concerto in 1796, but the main bulk of composition was done in 1800, with completion in 1804. Both works are similar in that they contrast introspection with unalloyed passion.
With interpretations that set the bar high, these are epic views of two of the masterpieces of the piano concerto repertoire. Sudbin delivers performances of poise, elegance and marked with a sense of style. There is depth and profundity in his intellectual vision of the music. He is ably supported by Vdnskd and his players. Orchestral playing is crisp and incisive. The Minnesota players have a lush string tone and mellifluous wind section. Here is music-making which is alive and vital and underpinned by the finest musicianship. These are highly polished and well-rehearsed performances.
Mozart's own cadenzas for K491 have not survived. In the notes, Sudbin states his delight at being given the opportunity to "get creative" and provide his own cadenzas for movements one and three. He sees this as a challenge with the composer throwing down the gauntlet, so to speak. He doesn't want the cadenza to be a mere imitation of Mozart, but rather to push the boundaries applying his "own brand of mediocrity". He certainly applies his own brand with a cadenza showcasing his bravura technique and creative imagination to the full.
Sound quality, as I have always found with Bis, is exemplary. Balance between piano and orchestra is ideal, and is a masterly achievement on the part of the recording engineers. The piano sound (Steinway D) is rich, full-bodied, warm and well-focused.
There is no doubt in my mind that Sudbin is one of the most highly gifted pianistic talents on the concert circuit today. One can only hope that his Beethoven cycle will be completed with concertos 1 and 2 in the not too distant future.
Stephen Greenbank

Masterwork Index: Beethoven concerto 3 ~~ Mozart concerto 24

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