MEDTNER Piano Concerto No 3 SCRIABIN Piano Concerto
It’s perhaps not surprising that Yevgeny Sudbin should be drawn to Nikolai Medtner: both are Russian-born, both ended up in the UK. They also share a link with Germany, Medtner in terms of ancestry, Sudbin in his studies. Sudbin offers a characteristically thought-provoking pairing of Scriabin, cheerfully pointing out in his engaging booklet-notes that ‘one could not possibly imagine the two becoming friends of any kind’.
The concertos here find Scriabin in youthful mode and Medtner near the end of his life. Heard ‘blind’ you’d never guess that Medtner’s Third, which has an unconventional fantasia-like structure, dated from the Second World War. He was fundamentally a man born out of his time (the only reason, surely, why his music isn’t much better known). Sudbin has found in Andrew Litton a wonderful comrade-in-arms and the characterisation offered by his Bergen Philharmonic is one of the pleasures of this recording. The interplay between pianist and orchestra is unfailingly chamber-musical and reactive. There were times when I wanted a greater degree of vehemence from the pianist (in the manner of Demidenko and – though he’s hampered by a cloudy recording – Scherbakov), not least at the outset of the very brief ‘Interludium’. In the finale, Demidenko’s uncompromising drive gives this long movement real shape (and his way with the perky theme at 1'30" in is winning), though Sudbin is unfailingly felicitous and highly reactive, which brings its own rewards.
In his notes Sudbin warns against thinking of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto as ‘Chopinesque’, though ironically it’s these qualities that characterise his own reading, the filigree beautifully brought off. Their relatively broad tempo for the slow-movement theme (more generous than Dobrowen for Solomon) works because Litton brings out the felicities of Scriabin’s scoring to such effect. And they surmount the challenges of the arguably over-extended finale, making light of the awkward rhythmic and textural shifts of gear. Solomon takes a different approach in his classic recording, steadier but rhythmically more strong-jawed. Add to this a finely detailed recording that puts Sudbin centre stage but not overly forward and you have a fascinating addition to the catalogue.