Notes and Editorial Reviews
Funérailles. Transcendental Etudes:
No. 10; No. 11,
“Harmonies du soir.”
3 Petrarch Sonnets.
Gaspard de la nuit.
Yevgeny Sudbin (pn)
BIS 1828 (SACD: 73:46)
Here is a program of unapologetically exhibitionist works for solo piano,
performed by an artist who has absolutely no reason to be apologetic for his virtuosic showmanship. In reviewing repertoire Yevgeny Sudbin has previously recorded, I’ve not been overwhelmed by this not-so-young-anymore (he’s 33 now) Russian keyboard dynamo. Technically, he’s brilliant, but then so is just about every other young pianist fresh from the conservatory or the competition circuit. What bothered me about Sudbin’s Chopin recital, reviewed in 35:5, was a certain coldness or aloofness in his playing.
As exemplary showpieces, all of the works on this disc strike me as being ideally suited to Sudbin’s technical prowess and emotional temperament. Liszt’s
is the seventh and probably most famous number in the composer’s cycle of 10 pieces, titled
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses
. Liszt denied the claim that he’d written the piece as a tribute to Chopin, insisting that it was intended to commemorate friends who had died in the 1848 Hungarian uprising against Habsburg rule. Whatever the circumstances of its composition, the work begins in a sepulchral mood and somewhat sulfurous atmosphere, gradually giving way to more peaceful strains, before launching into a headlong defiant charge. Power is required, and Sudbin delivers it.
Listening to the
, it’s hard to believe that the versions in which we know these 12 keyboard studies today are the ones that Liszt “simplified” and made easier to play in 1852. The original pieces were written by the 15-year-old Liszt in 1826, then still under the sway of his teacher, Carl Czerny. The first revision, made in 1837, did not involve any scaling back of the technical difficulties. In fact, Schumann called the revised etudes “an obscene collection of notes, probably too difficult for anyone except Liszt.” I’ll bet they wouldn’t have been too difficult, though, for Sudbin, who sails through the Nos. 10 and 11 of the set in their final 1852 versions with what sounds like unruffled composure.
The three so-called
also come from a larger cycle, this time of seven numbers, which, in turn is part of a triptych of cycles that form the
Années de pèlerinage
(Years of Pilgrimage). The
are Nos. 4, 5, and 6 in Book II, or the Second Year, titled “Italie.”
If Liszt’s musical imagery in the
reflects the ascetic seeking serenity in a state of visionary ecstasy, Ravel’s musical imagery in
Gaspard de la nuit
paints a surreal vision of nightmarish horror, its three movements based on poems by Aloysius Bertrand. But Ravel’s motive in writing the piece was perhaps as twisted as Bertrand’s poetry. Ravel made no secret of the fact that his intent in composing
, the last movement of the work, was to one-up Balakirev, whose
, was considered, at the time, to be the most difficult piece for piano ever written. Sudbin points out in his own program note that Ravel, who was anything but a virtuoso pianist himself, may have taken some perverse pleasure in torturing other pianists. Sudbin proves he’s more than equal to the challenge. I will say, though, that as fantastic and spine-tingling as his playing is, for me, this piece is owned jointly by two women, Martha Argerich on a 1974 recording for Deutsche Grammophon and Cécile Ousset on a 1989 Ars Vivendi CD I have that appears to be
. I don’t know if this is the same performance transferred to and released by Berlin Classics in 2003, a disc which is still listed. Both of these pianists do something more with the music than make child’s play of its technical difficulties, something Sudbin manages with ease as well; they bring out the cruel and chilling perversity of the score in a way that makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. Sudbin’s essaying of the piece is an extraordinary display of physical technique, but the pianist’s responsiveness to the baleful and scarifying aspects of the music seems lacking. Sudbin is master of the notes but not necessarily of what they notify.
The highly popular tone poem,
, also has elements of the ghastly and ghoulish about it, but in Saint-Saëns’s hands, the piece takes on a comedic character, albeit a black one. Skeletons animated back to life dance, frisk, and cavort about to a tune played by Death. In Musssorgsky’s
Night on Bare Mountain
, it’s the tolling of church bells that sends the witches and goblins back to their caves. In
, the cock crows, sending the undead back to their graves.
Night of the Living Dead
, meet the
In his album note, Sudbin tells us that he doesn’t really approve of Horowitz’s piano arrangement of the work—too many added notes; more notes don’t always equal better music; Horowitz was one of the greatest pianists but Liszt was a better composer—and so he, Sudbin, uses a hybrid arrangement by Horowitz and Liszt, along with some “minor liberties” of his own, including “a small cut in the development section.”
Phenomenal pianism matched by BIS’s fantastic recorded sound adds up to a desirable disc for all pianophiles and those who thrill to technical virtuosity displayed at its best.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Gaspard de la nuit by Maurice Ravel
Yevgeny Sudbin (Piano)
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1908; France
Harmonies poetiques et religieuses, S173/R14: VII. Funerailles
12 Etudes d'execution transcendante, S139/R2b: No. 10 in F minor, "Appassionata"
12 Etudes d'execution transcendante, S139/R2b: No. 11 in D flat major, "Harmonies du soir"
Annees de pelerinage, 2nd year, Italy, S161/R10b: No. 4. Sonetto 47 del Petrarca (Sonnet 47 of Petrarch)
Annees de pelerinage, 2nd year, Italy, S161/R10b: No. 5. Sonetto 104 del Petrarca (Sonnet 104 of Petrarch)
Annees de pelerinage, 2nd year, Italy, S161/R10b: No. 6. Sonetto 123 del Petrarca (Sonnet 123 of Petrarch)
Gaspard de la nuit: I. Ondine
Gaspard de la nuit: II. Le gibet
Gaspard de la nuit: III. Scarbo
Danse macabre, Op. 40 (arr. F. Liszt, V. Horowitz and Y. Sudbin for piano)
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