Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58 (1805-06) [32:09]
Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73 (1809) [37:27].
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
rec. January 2009 (No. 4), June 2010 (No. 5), Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA. DDD
BIS SACD 1758 [70:27]

Good news: This disc of the last two of Beethoven’s five piano concertos is part of a projected three-disc Beethoven set with the Minnesota Orchestra and conductor Osmo Vänskä. From the extraordinary level of expertise and ensemble of this recording, it’s clear that the partnership of this soloist, conductor and orchestra is at a level well worth immortalizing in what is likely to stand with the very finest Beethoven Concerto sets on disc. Indeed, Sudbin is now partway through a seven-year, 14-album project for BIS; the Beethoven Concerto cycle will be rounded out by pairing the Concerto No. 3 in C Minor with Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 24 in the same key. This is a prospect to entice the ear of the keyboard fan.

Sudbin, who was born in St. Petersburg in 1980 but has lived in London since 1997, has repeatedly impressed this reviewer with his recital and concerto appearances in the United States. His immaculate technique is the foundation for an approach to music-making that always seems to be questing, considering, and evolving during every performance. Here, in the opening statement of the Beethoven Concerto No. 4, Sudbin’s ruminative, improvisatory lines sound as if they were being composed on the spot. Same goes for the “Q&A” between the soloist and orchestra at the opening of the Concerto No. 4’s second movement.

The arpeggios of the Concerto No. 5 emerge with a silky evenness that never sounds percussive or choppy, but Sudbin can also command the heroic sonority that this piece requires – with thrilling results.

Neither as muscular and assertive as Pollini's Emperor with Karl Böhm (Deutsche Grammophon) nor as stately as Alfred Brendel's set of the five concertos with James Levine (Philips), Sudbin takes a more lyrical, songlike approach in playing that nonetheless has plenty of the required force and energy.

The very good Minnesota Orchestra has a rare rapport with its music director, and Vänskä is almost rapturously popular with both the players and the greater community. Here he leads performances of great energy, crispness and zest. There is careful attention to details of phrasing, but also an overriding exuberance that makes these performances sound spontaneous, never merely studied.

Melinda Bargreen

Overriding exuberance - spontaneous, never merely studied.