Yevgeny Sudbin was 25 when he made this recording of Scarlatti sonatas. Furthermore, he had not been playing the sonatas for years and years -- which rather surprised me, since his playing is so confident -- but rather had put together this program only after his agent had submitted to the BIS label a compilation disc that included only a couple of Scarlatti's sonatas, and BIS decided they wanted him to record an all-Scarlatti disc. He then systematically read through all 555 of Scarlatti's sonatas (or 'Essercizi,' as the composer called them) and whittled that number down to fifty and then finally the eighteen that are on the CD.
To say that these performances are startlingly good is something of an understatement. They are not only good, they are essential to any lover of Scarlatti. Granted, there are those who will only listen to the sonatas as played on a harpsichord and more power to them, but most of us don't mind at all hearing them on the piano and, further, most recordings of the sonatas these days are by pianists. There are some essential pianistic recordings, including Horowitz and Weissenberg (and some would include Pletnev) but this disc wins the right to be shelved right up there with the big boys.
It is hard to know how to describe why Sudbin's playing is so wonderful, but I'll try. From the very beginning of the first track -- Sonata in B Flat, K. 545) you hear that the pianist molds each phrase with extreme musicality, both in phrasing and dynamic variation. This is, of course, done from the perspective of the piano, not the harpsichord; in my opinion, too many pianists try to make the piano sound like a harpsichord, ignoring or trying to hide the essential tonal qualities of the instrument. One might say that Sudbin's approach is Romantic, but that's actually not the case; what it is is unabashedly pianistic, and that suggests gestures that only began in the late 18th century with Mozart and early Beethoven. This is, in my opinion, all to the good. And it also allows Sudbin to tells stories with his playing. By that I mean he can attempt a narrative or limn an emotional tone by variations in touch, legato, dynamics and phrasing, and if that sounds romantic, so be it. What really strikes me is that Sudbin is able to differentiate the individual sonatas so that, unlike so often on the harpsichord, they don't all sound alike.
Like many others who have recorded selections from the sonatas, Sudbin has arranged his selection to maximize contrast between consecutive pieces. For instance, Track 1 (K. 545) is a celebration, and the following sonata (K. 466) is reflective, inward, pensive and tender but not melancholy. And so on. He has tended to choose later sonatas but includes one of Scarlatti's rare fugal sonatas (K. 30) and he ends with two other early works, K. 27 and K. 24).
Technically, Sudbin's playing is beyond reproach. But equally important is his ability to get to the heart of each sonata and bring out its unique qualities. This all adds up to an amazingly assured, even important, début disc. BIS knows a good thing when they hear it: Sudbin has since recorded a disc of Rachmaninoff for them and word has it that there will be a release the First Concertos of Tchaikovsky and Medtner.
Yevgeny Sudbin is definitely a name to remember. It's hard to recall a début disc that made such a splash as this one.
on 29 July 2010
This is an outstanding production. It shows the diversity and range of Scarlatti, and provides a totally absorbing listening experience. Sudbin's choice of sonatas makes for an exciting and illuminating selection: 18 sonatas and 75 minutes of music, so among the most generous of single discs. For anyone who does not know Scarlatti, this is a perfect introduction. For those who do, this will give hours of pleasure in repeated hearing.
The playing is superlative - astonishingly well articulated, but with great beauty of tone, and the subtlest shading of dymanic in every phrase, yet played with such fluidity and energy that the music seems to flow effortlessly in even the most energetic sonatas. Never did I miss the harpsichord sound, and although the crispness and clarity suits the period, there are moments when, if you'd not heard the work before, you could imagine you were in the mid 19th century or even later.
I think this disc compares very well with the most celebrated recent piano collections: as imaginative as Pletnev, but less indulgent and never irritating; as powerful and technically assured as Pogorelich, but without the quirkiness. In tone and atmosphere, I'd say Sudbin is closest to the wonderful 1950s recordings by Marcelle Meyer (if you don't know her playing - search out either the 2-disc Bach and Scarlatti set, or the complete 17 disc bargain box from French EMI - the most exciting and least-known piano recordings I've stumbled across in the last decade, until perhaps Sudbin on BIS). It's refreshing to find such a complete pianist - technically totally assured, emotionally and spiritually immersed in the music, and completely lacking in self-regard or eccentricity.
Sound quality on this disc is as good as it gets. The notes, by Sudbin himself, are witty, erudite and great fun. My only complaint is that it's a single disc - I hope there will be more in the near future.
on 7 February 2006
This is a stunning disc by a a young master of his art. The technique and dexterity are atonishing, but even more so is the emotional range from the quiet introspective to the big bangs. Yevgeny has it all. He will convert the purists who believe that Scarlatti must be played on the instrument he wrote for, the harpsichord. He converted me, although I will now listen to Sudbin as well as Fernando Valenti, Scott Ross, Puyana, etc. But one feels sure that Scarlatti himself would applaud the audacity, the youhful vigour and the sensitive treament of the original. In K427 the guitar-like strumming could be stronger, and there might be a pause before the crashing punch line, but K492 is worth the cover price alone. Yevgeny Sudbin is AWESOME.
on 20 March 2006
Scarlatti wrote 555 sonatas for the harpsichord but as with much of J S Bach's keyboard music, you can't help feeling he would have loved the greater possibilities offered by the piano. Sudbin plays his selection of the sonatas on a modern Steinway and produces a highly enjoyable, engrossing and exciting programme. A generously filled disc - 75 minutes long - with the added value of SACD recording at no extra cost. Very pleasurable and highly recommended.