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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 6, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 18
The best of the best on Meany's piano
Arts & Entertainment
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The best of the best on Meany's piano

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Recital by Yevgeny Sudbin
April 20
Meany Hall


If I had to choose a pianist to hear, Yevgeny Sudbin would certainly be in the top five. In this program, he once again proved that, even at the tender age of 31, he is among the very best, both as a technician and as an artist. We have been lucky enough to hear him three times now in the Pacific Northwest (twice at Meany Hall and once at the Chan Centre in Vancouver), and he has never disappointed. I shall use this concert to illustrate some of the reasons he is so special.

Like Evgeny Kissin, this pianist is not apparently comfortable on stage until he is seated at the keyboard. He strides onto the stage in a stately, straight-backed manner, bows briefly to the audience, and immediately sits down to play. From his stage manner, you would think he was a rather cold fish. Yet, at the CD signing afterwards, he is all charm and warmth. It's then that you notice his incredibly huge, dark eyes and the transparent fairness of his skin.

His playing of the Haydn 'Sonata in B Minor' was so crystalline and classical that it comes as no surprise that Scarlatti is also a specialty of his. His back was absolutely straight almost every minute, and his technique made body movement minimal except in the most virtuosic of Romantic works. What flowed out was pure song: beautiful lines of perfectly etched phrases, precisely gauged dynamics, and an elegance from another age. Tempi were brisk without being rushed.

The following Shostakovich selection of four of the '24 Preludes, Op. 34' was like a refreshing palette cleanser after the tonal confines of the Haydn. Here Sudbin reveled in the contrasts between the witty, percussive rhythms and the brief lyrical moments, still with classical clarity and articulation.

Chopin's Ballades Nos. 3 and 4 followed. If you were looking for interpretive maturity in this young pianist, you'd find it here in spades. While the Ballades did not have quite the glowing warmth of the Rubenstein recordings, they were quite similar in most other ways: well-judged tempi, beautifully built crescendos, and of course technical perfection.

And after the intermission, things only got better! Sudbin played the 'Transcendental √Čtude No. 11 in D-flat Major' by Liszt with magical effect. The warmth here could not be denied, carried in a cloud of such beauty that we were lifted into another realm. Liszt is not my favorite composer, but perhaps Sudbin could change my attitude! One only regretted that the √Čtude was so short.

The program ended with a no less spectacular 'Gaspard de la Nuit' of Ravel. A mastery of this music requires, among other technical wizardry, the ability to paint with a broad palette of colors. The same note on the piano must be capable of sounding quite differently, even at the same volume. Here Sudbin drew colors perfectly suited to the musical effect. In particular I was impressed by some tones that sounded almost like a flute, as though coming from an instrument with a hollow pipe. This work, as the program notes so aptly put, 'abounds in Liszt-inspired bravura as well as sensitive tonal color and great atmosphere.' Sudbin approached the mastery of Alicia de Larrocha in meeting these challenges. Here his back sometimes coiled like a spring, and the power of his flying fingers was prodigious. Indeed, he lifted off the seat in some of the most energetic moments of virtuosity. Haydn is nice, but Ravel is spice! And we got a tasty meal for sure!

The welcome encores were Rachmaninoff preludes: 1, in G major, Op. 32, #5 and 2, in g minor, Op. 22, #5. The incredible demands of this last left us all more than satisfied. What a way to end a recital!

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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