Notes and Editorial Reviews
Piano Concerto No. 24.
Piano Concerto No. 3
Yevgeny Sudbin (pn); Osmo Vänskä, cond; Minnesota O
BIS 1978 (SACD: 66:16)
First let me say that for this recording BIS’s engineers have really put the “Super” into Super Audio CD. The entire orchestra and solo piano emerge from the recording, projected as if in a 3D holographic image from the speakers, and you feel the timpani strokes in your solar plexus. Without a doubt,
this has to be one of the most awesome recordings I’ve heard from a purely sonic perspective. But of course, that would be to little or no avail if the performances weren’t equally awe-inspiring. Happily, I can report that they are.
Everything that needs to be said about Yevgeny Sudbin’s performance of the Beethoven Concerto can be summed up with the three ascending C-Minor scales that announce the soloist’s entrance. Unlike so many pianists I’ve heard, who play these scales almost as if they were glissandos, in a blur with the sustaining pedal held down (see my review elsewhere in this issue of Artur Pizarro playing this same concerto) Sudbin articulates them in precise rhythm, one note at a time, and the effect is stark, dramatic, and commanding.
I see by the
Archive that I felt Sudbin was a bit out of his element in a Chopin recital in 35:5, but a year later, in 36:5, I was wowed by his Liszt and Ravel. Sudbin’s Beethoven is made of the same steel and flint that characterized his Liszt and Ravel, which some listeners—especially those who favor period-instrument performances—may find a bit overbearing. But this is unapologetically “big-band” Beethoven, and Mozart, too; though in no way do Sudbin or the Minnesota Orchestra, led by Osmo Vänskä, engage in any self-indulgent Romantic excesses.
The shock and awe delivered by these readings come entirely from accurate, pointed articulation of detail and authoritative execution. It may seem a minor point, but just listen to the measured meticulousness and cleanness of Sudbin’s trills, which maintain perfect speed and evenness regardless of how short or how long they are. As I listened to the Beethoven, in particular, I realized how stunned the audience must have been at that April 5, 1803, concert when the composer, playing the solo piano part himself, first introduced the concerto to the public. How different this was from Mozart even at his most dramatic.
And speaking of which, Mozart’s C-Minor Concerto (No. 24) makes an excellent discmate for the Beethoven. There’s little doubt that it was this concerto that was echoing in Beethoven’s head when he sat down to write his own C-Minor Concerto. You need only look at the similar outlines of the opening statements. I’m also reasonably convinced that it was this concerto by Mozart that elicited from Beethoven his reported remark to Ferdinand Ries that though he (Beethoven) had studied with Haydn, he had learned everything he needed to know from Mozart.
But as with Robert Frost’s “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,” the paths taken by Mozart’s concerto and Beethoven’s are very different. Mozart treats his opening statement thematically, giving rise to an abundance of melodic material. Beethoven treats his opening statement motivically, giving rise to a series of brief, blunt, even brutal pronouncements. For Beethoven, the first movement is more about the rhythmic postscript—ta-tum, ta-tum—than it is about the incipit—the rising minor triad, C-E?-G—though both play an important role throughout the development. But one thing about Beethoven is that when he wants to make a special point of something, he’s rarely subtle about it; and you only have to listen to the coda after the cadenza to understand what he planned all along for that ta-tum, ta-tum. It should make your heart race and your palms sweat as he tightens his grip around your throat, and I can promise you that Sudbin and Vänskä are as dramatically intense in this moment as anyone I’ve heard.
Mozart’s Concerto is surely not without its drama either. As noted in another review, in terms of its instrumentation, it’s the composer’s “everything bagel.” No other Mozart concerto is as heavily scored, and along with the D-Minor Concerto (No. 20), this C-Minor Concerto is atypical of Mozart’s concertos in general, not only for being in a minor key, but for being cast in much the same heroic-tragic mold of the Beethoven No. 3. To that end as well—not just in thematic/motivic material—the two works share commonalities which Sudbin and Vänskä are keenly aware of and most effective at highlighting.
As both performance and recording, this is an absolutely stunning release, which I urgently recommend to everyone. Even those whose tastes run to period instruments and smaller-sized ensembles will be able to appreciate the spectacular sound of this SACD, and maybe even acknowledge that great Mozart and Beethoven playing can happen even on a Steinway D and with a modern symphony orchestra.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Concerto for Piano no 3 in C minor, Op. 37 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Yevgeny Sudbin (Piano)
Written: 1800; Vienna, Austria
Concerto for Piano no 24 in C minor, K 491 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Yevgeny Sudbin (Piano)
Written: 1786; Vienna, Austria
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491: I. Allegro
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491: II. Larghetto
Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491: III. Allegretto
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37: I. Allegro con brio
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37: II. Largo
Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37: III. Rondo: Allegro
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