Yevgeny Sudbin at Wigmore Hall

Sonata in B minor, HXVI:32
Années de pèlerinage: Deuxième Année, Italie – Three Petrarch Sonnets
Preludes, Op.34 [selections]
Preludes, Opp.23 & 32 [selections]
Sonata tragica in C minor, Op.39/5

Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 28 July, 2011
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Yevgeny Sudbin. Photograph: Mark HarrisonYevgeny Sudbin has just issued a recording of Haydn sonatas, which explains the incongruous inclusion of the B minor work in this rather short Wigmore Hall recital. The pianist writes his own programme notes and feels that this particular work is one of Haydn’s most eccentric pieces. Sudbin chose a fast tempo for the Allegro moderato with a staccato left- and limpid right-hand and with minimal use of the pedals. In the repeat of the exposition he changed the phrasing and weight of attack and the start of the development was unexpectedly understated. But from this point things went awry. It seemed that Sudbin was caught in a metronomic straitjacket and the give and take, slight pauses, rubato and dynamic variation that Alfred Brendel always brought to this music were absent. The Sonata has a Minuet rather than a slow movement; yet Sudbin’s tempo was incredibly slow. He might have got away with it, but once again – despite some beautiful touches and tone – he seemed caught in a rhythmic and expressive vice. The presto finale was indeed fast if completely devoid of feeling or subtlety. Liszt’s three Petrarch Sonnets derive from songs – all are understated, and the main theme of each has an austere, sculpted, bel canto-like quality. Unfortunately from Sudbin it was very difficult to discern any melodic line, or sense of form, as everything was subsumed in a wash of soft, glutinous sound, and a worrying sense of emotional detachment.

The Russian second half should have played to Sudbin’s strengths and in the Shostakovich Preludes his playing seemed less stiff. He played the A flat slowly (it is marked Largo) and searchingly and here the soft touch wasn’t out-of-place – and yet the concluding Allegretto needed more passion. Rachmaninov’s G sharp minor Prelude didn’t seethe, but the following two pieces were far more convincing, with respectively a real attack and a quiet sense of poetry. The G minor Prelude is one of the twentieth-century’s most popular piano pieces and it received a powerfully direct performance. Here the slower central section did rise and fall, if without ever quite capturing that very Russian sense of yearning melancholy that Sviatoslav Richter so memorably found. Finally we had Nikolai Medtner, who still languishes in what some would say is well-deserved obscurity. Sudbin has stated that he considers those who don’t warm to his compositions to be “Music-Neanderthals” – an interesting point-of-view. Unfortunately – sitting in my cave – I’m afraid that when the Sonata had finished, I couldn’t remember a single note of it, but I am sure it was played quite magnificently.

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