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Alexander SCRIABIN (1872-1915)
Piano Concerto in F sharp minor Op.20 [26:36]
Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 60 ‘Ballade’ [35.16]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
rec. November 2013, Grieghallen, Bergen, Norway
BIS BIS2088 SACD [62:42]

This release shows some astute programming on the part of BIS and the Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin. Both of the composers featured studied composition under Sergei Taneyev and piano with Vasily Safonov at the Moscow Conservatoire. Each made his name as a pianist, with the piano central to their compositional output. Sudbin clearly has a close affinity with these two composers having recorded for BIS Medtner’s Piano Concertos 1 (review) and 2 (review), and a CD devoted to solo piano music of Scriabin (review). Each of these recordings has been warmly received by music critics.

Sudbin, in choosing to programme these two concertos, not the most accessible to audiences, discusses the difficulties he encountered. He had to find an orchestra and conductor who would commit to the demanding rehearsal schedule these works require. Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra prove sympathetic soul-mates.

There is a forty-five year gap between the two concertos. Scriabin composed his in 1896, when he was twenty-four, and it is clearly the work of a young man. Medtner was sixty when he set his concerto down in 1940. Yet, of the two compositions, it is Scriabin’s which is the more daring and experimental, displaying greater vision. It was written before the composer embarked on the path of waywardness, chromaticism and mysticism that are a distinguishing feature of his later music. Significantly, 2015 marks the centenary of the composer’s death.

In the Scriabin Concerto, Sudbin displays formidable technical virtuosity, in a performance contrasting emotional intensity with melancholy and tranquillity. Litton points up favourably the rich orchestration. In the opening measures of the second movement there is a world of peace and serenity engendered. The finale has that glorious ‘big tune’, a delight to listen to here. I cannot understand why this melodious concerto is not taken up by more pianists.

Medtner’s Piano Concerto No. 3 was commissioned by Benno Moiseiwitsch, who did much to promote the composer’s work. It was dedicated to the Maharajah of Mysore, His Highness Jayachamaraja Wodeyar Bahadur, himself an amateur pianist, who founded the Medtner Society. Its aim was to record the composer’s music. The concerto is in three continuous movements, the central panel being a one and a half minute ‘Interludium’ linking the two outer ones. This is a compelling performance with the soloist, conductor and orchestral players having a positive understanding of the structure of this lengthy work, judging the ebb and flow well. There is drama and passion when called for, with the more lyrical passages eloquently realized.

The state of the art SACD sound from Bis is stunning, and the engineers have achieved impeccable balance between soloist and orchestra. The Grieghallen offers a responsive acoustic allowing vivid orchestral detail to be picked out. Yevgeny Sudbin provides his own perceptive insights into the works in the booklet, translated into German and French.

On the evidence here, there is no doubt in my mind that Sudbin’s discographical legacy is going from strength to strength.

Stephen Greenbank



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