I second the lead reviewer's enthusiasm over this CD and for the same reasons. Sudbin has been overshadowed by the current vogue for attractive young female virtuosos and the grip of post-Soviet pianists of almost superhuman technical ability. But he's held his own, with a healthy output of CDs. I think it was wise of him to step outside the usual Russian repertoire to prove that he can be impressive in Mozart and Beethoven (not many Russians keyboardists are). Like Mikhail Pletnev, who issued a daring Beethoven concerto cycle a few years ago, Sudbin actually has novel ideas and doesn't wear the rut of conventionality half an inch deeper.
But first a bow to Vanska's conducting. As we held our breath to see if the Minnesota Orch. would rise from the ashes, their acclaimed music director resigned and then, in an act of real generosity, agreed to return to a diminished and fractured orchestra. You'd never know that such turmoil existed listening to these performances. Vanska shows what it means to have a talented conductor on the podium instead of a famous pianist waving his right hand from the keyboard. The accompaniment in the K. 491 concerto, taking advantage of such beautiful woodwind writing, is really the best I've heard in a long time.
In the era of HIPness, it should be noted that without being romanticized, this is Mozart writ large, not miniaturized. Sudbin does some modest decoration in repeats, and we certainly don't hear a full-sized orchestra. the one point of controversy will likely be the first and last movement cadenzas, written by him. In a note Sudbin warns that he didn't want to ape Mozart's style but to take the opportunity for something new and fresh. That's what he's done, in an idiom quite removed from Mozartean style (thee are no extant cadenzas by the composer), and I was entertained. My only quibble is that the finale is rather stately, more poised than exuberant.
The Beethoven Third is in C minor, the same key as the Mozart, but where Cto. no. 24 displays a minor-key mood mostly in an air of refined melancholy, Beethoven's minor-key world is stormy and at times defiant (this is the key of the Fifth Sym., after all). In that regard the concerto moves only halfway into the full-scale drama of Beethoven's fully mature idiom, but I still want to hear a reading, like the classic one with Serkin and Bernstein, that looks forward. Vanska's acclaimed Beethoven symphony cycle was "new" style, with punchy accents, fast tempos, and semi-HIP touches. Here some of those stylistic gestures are also present, so the interpretation doesn't fulfill m ideal.
It's very good nonetheless, with soloist and conductor sharing the same musical impulses and therefore blending well. Sudbin gives a declarative statement of the solo part, standing forth as he should, like the heroic protagonist of the Emperor Cto. His technique is very even in runs and trills. There's not a blemish, and yet he doesn't lapse into mechanical note spinning. I think real originality eludes him, however - just listen to what Pletnev makes of the concerto in his DG cycle. Being a Chopinist, Sudbin has a special touch in the slow movement, where indeed he's at his most supple and personal, maybe too much so for a listener who wants to hear something closer to Haydn's classicism. The finale is direct and energetic although a bit too contained for me. Serkin and Pletnev are both considerably slower but more distinctive in their playing.
In all, this is a thoroughly enjoyable pairing and a real success for both soloist and orchestra, even if it falls short of the heights.