Yevgeny Sudbin at Wigmore Hall – Funérailles, Danse macabre

Domenico Scarlatti
Sonata in G minor; Sonata in G, Kk455; Sonata in B minor, Kk27
Ballade in A flat, Op.47
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses – Funérailles
Piano Sonata No.5 in F sharp, Op.53
Saint-Saëns, arr. Liszt, arr. Horowitz
Danse macabre, Op.40

Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 21 January, 2013
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Evgeny Sudbin. Photograph: Mark HarrisonFor this BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concert at Wigmore Hall, Yevgeny Sudbin chose a widely varied programme that linked extremely well. This was helped by his choice of Domenico Scarlatti sonatas. The opening (and unidentified by a Kirkpatrick number) G minor work was a study in thoughtfulness but had an elegiac air, and the ornamentation applied was tasteful. The following two sonatas were busier but extremely well defined in the right-hand particularly, Sudbin playing with elegance and poise. Chopin’s A flat Ballade retained these qualities, and Sudbin gave a persuasive lilt to the triple-time second theme, providing extra definition through careful use of the sustaining pedal. This was above all a poetic performance, with a strong sense of legato, and the fortissimo passages were clean cut.

The Liszt was a different story, keening to the bone immediately with its left-hand octaves, the harsh sound an unsettling evocation of funeral bells. The gradual accumulation of power was impressively controlled, but the tintinnabulation was ominous throughout. When Sudbin did finally cut loose the relative loss of control was striking, the music on the edge of self destructing. It was a surprisingly close match between the soundworlds of Liszt and Scriabin. The latter’s Piano Sonata No.5 was completed in 1907 contemporaneously with The Poem of Ecstasy. Sudbin’s technique here was dazzling; the details of Scriabin’s most intricate and unwieldy melodies were remarkably vivid. Sudbin has affinity with this music, instinctively knowing when to pause and when to accelerate, and the chromatic slides often performed by the right-hand made the piano appear to be sighing. By contrast the faster theme had a carefree edge, but one that frequently threatened to spiral out of control, which it did towards the end, the dotted rhythms incisive. Scriabin’s surprise sudden ending, the music left hanging in the air, was brilliantly done.

At times in the transcription made by Liszt, later further arranged by Vladimir Horowitz, of Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre I had to check Sudbin had two hands and not three, such was the speed of his switches between the upper and lower registers of the piano. Once again themes were extremely well-defined through the proliferation of notes, with only the quieter left-hand unisons disappearing beneath the surface. The fugal episode was immaculately voiced, while the terrific virtuosity seemed to throw shards of music at the audience. It was a breathtaking performance. As encores, Sudbin offered a softly-voiced Rachmaninov G major Prelude (Opus 32/5) and his own wild arrangement of Chopin’s ‘Minute’ Waltz, virtuosity and definition once again indivisible.

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