Yevgeny Sudbin at Queen Elizabeth Hall

Fantasy in F minor, Op.49
Ballade in A flat, Op.47
Two Mazurkas – in F minor, Op.7/3; in B minor, Op.33/4
Ballade in F minor, Op.52
Fugue on a Fragment of Chopin
Transcendental Studies – Harmonies du soir
Gaspard de la nuit

Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 25 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Yevgeny Sudbin. Photograph: Mark HarrisonHaving been deafened by the recorded voice of Sir Ian McKellen announcing the usual housekeeping matters (at this point some in the audience put their fingers in their ears, and again come the same announcements at the beginning of the recital’s second part), Yevgeny Sudbin strode forth to play five pieces by Chopin. The Fantasy was generally impressive – introspective, richly expressive, consoling and volatile, the great march-like section surprisingly convincing at so fast a tempo, even if first time round the two hands were not quite as equal in balance as ideal.

Technically commanding as Sudbin was, over the course of these pieces, a feeling of relentlessness set in, the A flat Ballade not yielding enough, its discombobulating harmonic changes glossed over, and its F minor companion lacked timelessness yet also meandered. Certainly there was fine tone produced from the Steinway as well as expressive asides and attention to dynamics, but there also containment and similarity. The Mazurkas lacked their essential enigma.

Ronald Stevenson’s Fugue on a fragment of Chopin (1948) – its basis taken from the F minor Ballade (maybe Sudbin could have played the Stevenson immediately after the Chopin original rather than opening the recital’s second half with it) – held the attention through its austerity and decoration building to a gnarled scherzo and leaving in no doubt as to Stevenson’s intellect and deep understanding of the piano. Having played Stevenson with sympathy, Sudbin then gave a rather unsettled and premature account of the Liszt that only became calming in its final measures.

Good as it was to hear the Stevenson, it was Sudbin’s often-remarkable account of Gaspard de la nuit that stole the show. Fluent and fantastical in ‘Ondine’, hypnotically still in ‘Le Gibet’, and dangerously swift, if with remarkable clarity if not enough malevolence, in ‘Scarbo’, apart from holding the audience spellbound (save the woman centrally placed in Row G of the Front Stalls with her irritating clanking bracelets!), Sudbin reminded of what an astonishing masterpiece Gaspard is. He concluded with two encores, a couple of Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the first of chiselled beauty, the second of coruscating brilliance.

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