thu 24/09/2020

Yevgeny Sudbin, Wigmore Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Yevgeny Sudbin, Wigmore Hall

Yevgeny Sudbin, Wigmore Hall

Younger-generation Russian pianist shines a brilliant light on the rich and rare

Older pianomanes may lament the passing of the great Russian schooling that gave us the likes of Sofronitsky, Yudina and Richter. I'm not so sure. The younger generations may have dropped the mystic torch, but their more even-tempered approach can beguile. Yevgeny Sudbin forms the current holy trinity with Boris Berezovsky and Nikolai Lugansky. His latest Wigmore recital was revelatory, not always in a good way; that broad beam needn't have swept every corner of the broad Russian church he so singularly constructed in the programme's second half. But anyone who can make Liszt sound as lucid as Haydn is unique.

Sudbin follows in Richter's footsteps in aiming to restore Haydn's piano sonatas to quirky centre stage. He certainly wasn't playing to the gallery by launching very definitely into the suppressed two-part demonism of the B minor sonata (Hob.XVI:32). Though it rose to greater wildness, the classicism remained sure-footed, and Sudbin never plays just straight repeats, toying with the phrases in different ways or varying the dynamics without self-admiring fussiness. He saved a touch of Haydnesque humour until last; having played through the second half of the finale with a full, gruff cadence once, when he came to it again, the last two chords were almost thrown away, incurring that knowing Wigmore audience chuckle.


The Liszt Petrarch Sonnets that followed wrapped round the restless searching of "Warfare I cannot wage, yet know not peace" - praise be to Sudbin's otherwise detailed programme notes for giving us little more than the sonnet texts of the original songs - with loving assurance; Sonnets 47 and 123 knew exactly, but always poetically, where they were going. Sudbin also centred the cracked looking-glass dances of four early Shostakovich preludes; elegance rather than grotesquerie was the keynote here, an approach that might work better with the stronger material of the Prokofiev miniatures to which young Shostakovich was clearly indebted.

Curiously, it was the almost themeless tirade of Rachmaninov's F minor, Allegro appassionato prelude from Op 32 which felt more modern. I'd have liked the lights of its immediate companions to have flickered a little more mysteriously, and the wayward fantasy-march of the famous G minor prelude felt a little smothered by the novel figurations Sudbin so boldly impressed upon us; he certainly wasn't following in the composer-pianist's own interpretative footsteps.

Unquestionably the climax of the recital, though, was Sudbin's dauntless championship of Medtner's Sonata tragica. Here's a figure who according to several great Russian performers I've spoken to wrote better and more naturally for the piano than anyone else, even Rachmaninov, and Berezovsky has already been reclaiming much of Medtner's lost ground. Sudbin impressed upon us the novelty and compression of the composer's musical thought within a framework that the pianist as passionate annotator would have us believe marks perfection in the sonata form. His performance bore that out, tumultuous and hardly ever finding rest or quiet, but for once it didn't feel like there was a note too many in this grim cavalcade.

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Actually it was Hob.XVI:32, not 29.

Corrected, thanks, AA: no idea where that not so magic number came from.

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