Monday, 4 February 2013

Yevgeny Sudbin

The Russian pianist Yevgeny Sudbin is my kind of pianist. I first came across him playing Scarlatti, then went on to hear him in Rachmaninov and Medtner, and now in a Liszt recital (also including Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit). Where thundering is required (as in Funerailles) Sudbin thunders. When virtuosity is required – as in most of this programme, including Gaspard and Liszt's arrangement of Saint-Saën's Danse Macabre – Sudbin becomes a super-virtuoso. Where tenderness is demanded, as in the Petrarch sonnets, Sudbin is tender. Above all, he is a superb musician (and also writes interesting liner notes that reveal that he actually thinks about the music he plays). Yet another superb piano recital CD to keep beside my player; space is getting tight. The BIS recording in excellent.

In the world of classical music, there are intelligent top musicians; there are also showmen for whom the classical arena becomes a branch of showbiz, and this has always been so. To my mind, major musicians as diverse as Lang Lang, Horowitz, von Karajan, Bernstein and Pavarotti crossed the line from intelligent musicians to showbiz personalities; the motive is almost always lodsa money, rather than artistic fulfilment. Not that there are not moments in most musicians' lives when money is not vital; I recall my father, as an unemployed musician during the period 1946-49 declaiming: “Art for art's sake; money for God's sake”. And many musicians were pretty poor during much of the 1920s and early 30s. But lodsa money beckons for musicians prepared to invest heavily in major PR and to ricochet round the world playing the same handful of well-known warhorses. It rarely enhances their reputations, since crossing invisible boundaries tends to be somewhat final; someone who crossed the other way was Alfredo Campoli – an excellent violinist – who went from café orchestra leader to a classical violin career without, however, gaining much respect from his fellow classical musicians. Musically, the worst performance of Bach's unaccompanied sonatas and partitas I have ever heard was given by old Alfredo in Blenheim Palace, standing in for an indisposed Yehudi Menuhin.

Needless to say, there is nothing showbiz about Yevgeny Sudbin; like pretty well all my favourite classical artists, he is a real musician and always well worth listening to.

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