18 Sonatas [Kirkpatrick catalogue]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Recorded between 10-12 October 2004 at the Västerås Concert Hall, Sweden
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: June 2005
CD No: BIS
Duration: 76 minutes
These are fascinating interpretations of this selection from Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 harpsichord sonatas. Fascinating because Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, born in St Petersburg in 1980, not only treats these works as originals for the piano but also recreates them with hindsight. Possibly for this reason it is not always possible to suggest Sudbin’s approach as being ingrained or definitive. Yet his individual approach is always drawn from the music itself, and if his big-boned, often muscular manner suggests a technique and sympathy for later, more Romantic works, then there is always something to compel and illuminate, and there is much that is delicate and pastel-shaded, too.
Other pianists, whether recorded or not, who have given insightful accounts of Scarlatti, while retaining a semblance of the harpsichord’s sound and figuration, include Barenboim, Ciccolini and Demidenko. Sudbin seems to eschew the sonatas’ genesis. There is certainly crispness of articulation, but it is entirely pianistically conceived; sometimes a turn of phrase, a pianissimo contrast or a fluctuation of tempo sounds slightly implausible. Or a slow phrase will be perfumed in a way that would suit a Chopin Nocturne and a gruff left-hand interjection will remind of Beethoven. That said, Sudbin is quite capable of sustaining linear purity or a sparkling series of staccatos; the former as searching as Bach, the latter as even as the prevailing dictates of the harpsichord.
Overall, Sudbin is as imaginative as the music he is playing; and what astonishing invention Scarlatti’s is – each sonata opening up a new and different world. In many ways this is what Sudbin seems to be suggesting; that each of these one-movement works is a limitless quarry; and why shouldn’t he see in it features that were to be manifest decades and centuries later.
After engaging with Sudbin’s imaginative response as a performing musician, one peruses the booklet to find that he has written a very erudite essay. He terms Scarlatti’s sonatas as “outrageously individual”. He finds such imagery as “church bells, howls in the street and abrupt gunshots” in them, which are “impressionistic transcriptions of day-to-day life”. In relation to his written description, Sudbin’s actual renditions are relatively subtle; in essence, he is willing to disrupt the surface more than other musicians.
Put simply, this is a collection that stresses the music’s characteristics without crossing over into mannerism or novelty for its own sake. A great deal of thought has gone into Sudbin’s view of the music. There’s lightness and sparkle when required, and simplicity, too, and there are cameo appearances from Liszt and, even, Prokofiev. Indeed, this is notably ‘Russian’ playing (one hears the occasional Gilels-like ‘bear hug’) yet nothing is predictable and there are things of endless pleasure – the gradual formation of the G minor Sonata (K426) and its fleet major-key companion (K427), perceived by Sudbin as indivisible.
So, a very impressive collection and one superbly recorded. There are infinite ways of playing this wonderful music, and Sudbin has a distinct viewpoint. A release to treasure, then. The CD’s final sonata (in A, K24) is among the most ornamental, the most baroque – that is until a final, dramatic flourish presages Ludwig van Beethoven!