wed 22/09/2021

Yevgeny Sudbin, Westminster Cathedral Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Yevgeny Sudbin, Westminster Cathedral Hall

Yevgeny Sudbin, Westminster Cathedral Hall

Interior worlds and wild virtuosity meet in the phenomenal Russian's thoughtful recital

Yevgeny Sudbin: the pensive virtuosoClive Barda

It was the kind of programme that great pianist Vladimir Horowitz used to pioneer, with the simple balm of Scarlatti offset by Scriabin’s flights of fancy, and a dash of virtuoso fireworks to conclude.

Though he is an admirer of the master, and even featured Horowitz’s hyperintensification of an already extravagant Liszt transcription in this recital, Yevgeny Sudbin is very much his own man: a thinker verging on the visionary who always seems to know exactly where the more extreme fantasists among his chosen composers are heading.

What a good idea to make a centred start with pensive Scarlatti, interwoven with the more flamboyant side of the composer in a superb sequence of four sonatas. The owl-like Sudbin was especially adept at using his trick of withdrawing into near silence in a bar, reminding us that all too few other pianists use classical repeats to say something new; this was not intrusive romanticism, but an expression of the pianist’s own imaginative personality.

Sudbin then made space to project the rhythmic patterns that run through Chopin’s Third Ballade, preserving a unity alongside the improvisatory sense of gathering exultation. Liszt normally feels like an excessive intensification of the Polish composer’s already radical language; but Sudbin’s headlong attack on Funérailles, roaring de profundis, was pure black against the white of the Ballade. It’s probably a question of taste, but I’d like a bit less of the sustaining pedal when there are so many notes. It’s too often used by pianists who don’t want us to hear what’s missing in the cataclysm, but that’s certainly not the case with Sudbin’s phenomenal technique.

Demon battalions of determined decorators set us firmly in the land of the virtuosic absurd

Another clap of lowest-register thunder shook the audience from the complacency of a meandering interval, and we were off on a ride to the stars in Scriabin’s transcendental Fifth Sonata. This is territory that Sudbin flies through like few other living pianists: he joins the scintillating drives towards the sublime with the interior world of the alternating reveries without ever showing the seams.

The light shone again in Rachmaninov’s G major Prelude, attached to the midnight bell of Saint-Saens’s Danse Macabre. But the demon battalions of determined decorators, courtesy of Liszt’s transcription as augmented by Horowitz, set us firmly in the land of the virtuosic absurd; you had to forget the musical sense of the original in both its piano and orchestral forms, and wonder at the fact that in coping with the extra counterpoint, Sudbin was still using only two hands instead of four - or eight.

He himself out-Godowskied Godowsky, that other giddying transcriber, in the second encore, his three and a half minute transcription of – one should rather call it a fantasia on – Chopin’s Minute Waltz, wisely called À la minute. It was daft but brilliant, and the assembled members of the London Chopin Society, whom we have to thank for an energizing Sunday afternoon, lapped it up. You can hear much of the same programme – minus one of the Scarlatti sonatas and the Rachmaninov prelude, with identical encores not guaranteed, of course - at the Wigmore Hall on 21 January. It's sold out, like this one, but you’d be well advised to queue for returns.

Watch Sudbin play Scarlatti's Sonata in F minor, K466

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