Yevgeny Sudbin plays Haydn, Shostakovich, Chopin, Liszt and Ravel

Haydn, Shostakovich, Chopin, Liszt, and Ravel: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano), Meany Hall, Seattle, 20.4.2011 (BJ)

There is a not insubstantial difference between “already hailed as potentially one of the greatest pianists of the 21st century” – a citation from the Daily Telegraph – and the same judgement with the “potentially” left out. Whoever was responsible for the excision in some of Yevgeny Sudbin’s publicity deserves to have his wrist slapped for a disservice to a serious artist.

The silly part of it is that the 31-year-old Russian pianist stands in no need of special pleading. This recital in the University of Washington’s “President’s Piano Series” amply sufficed to show that he must be regarded as – already, and not just potentially – a talent of formidable proportions.

Sudbin is clearly a “big” pianist, as his seemingly effortless conquest of Ravel’s technically arduous Gaspard de la nuit and the challenges of Liszt’s Harmonies du soir and Chopin’s third and fourth ballades demonstrated. But he is also a musician of keen stylistic insight and elevated taste. This was evident in his shaping of a program that unobtrusively associated the “Ondine” figuratively evoked in the Third Ballade with the explicitly so titled first movement of Gaspard, furthermore setting up a neat transition from Liszt’s transcendental coruscations to those that begin the Ravel work.

A well-chosen group of Shostakovich preludes (Nos. 2, 6, 17, and 24 from the Opus 34 set) was crisply and eloquently played. But it was perhaps the Haydn B-minor Sonata, Hob. XVI:32, right at the beginning of the program, that most unequivocally established Sudbin’s maturity in the matter of taste. Smooth yet incisive in phrasing, expressive yet free from exaggeration, this was unmistakably Haydnesque playing, not merely some generic approximation to 18th-century style. I particularly liked his idea – stylistically quite legitimate – of playing the last two chords in the second half of the finale loudly the first time around, and then, in the repeat, tossing them off quietly to supply a witty conclusion.

Bernard Jacobson