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A new piano master visits Seattle
A new piano master visits Seattle
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Piano recital by Yevgeny Sudbin Meany Theater, UW campus Wednesday, November 7th I want to proclaim a great new artist. At twenty-seven, Yevgeny Sudbin is already a master. Looking like a beautiful college student, this tall, slender Russian strode to the Steinway, acknowledged the audience applause in a charming manner, and began almost immediately to communicate in the way he knew best --- by pulling music from his instrument. Indeed, like his fellow countryman Yevgeny Kissin, he couldn't get to the music fast enough.

At first, a certain nervous excitement showed through his translucent skin. My binoculars revealed a bright red stripe down his cheek and a large red splotch behind his ear. But as he became immersed in Haydn's 'Sonata No. 30, in B Minor,' these marks disappeared, never to return. Indeed, his playing revealed the kind of confidence and control that one seldom encounters. His posture was absolutely straight-backed, but his arms and long fingers commanded the keys with supple grace combined with immense reserves of power.

Both this and a late Haydn work ('Sonata in C Major'), were characterized by utter clarity, brisk tempi, appropriate rubato, and exciting dynamics. Anyone thinking Haydn sonatas could be dull should have heard these performances! Such crystalline liveliness suggested that Sudbin's CD of Scarlatti sonatas would be an excellent purchase.

After the two Haydn pieces, we jumped to the utterly different world of Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951). In the articulate and lively program notes by Sudbin himself, the pianist quoted Rachmaninov speaking to Medtner: "You are, in my opinion, the greatest composer of our time." His "Sonata 'Remeniscenze,' Op. 38, No. 1" showed Sudbin's ease with vastly different styles. The classical clarity of the Haydn gave way to atmospheric, meditative repose that soon contrasted with virtuosic torment and late romantic angst. Sudbin seemed at home in this music, eager to meet its technical demands. This he did without breaking a sweat. Indeed, his amazing technique made it all seem effortless, as though the piano was merely an extension of his own body.

Thus, it goes without saying that the Chopin "Mazurkas from Op. 33" presented no problems technically. What was remarkable was the poetry and warmth of Sudbin's playing - not the same but as satisfying as the mature Rubinstein recordings. Throughout the program, Sudbin made the music his own, without excentricities or self indulgence.

The pianist devoted the second half of the program to works of Alexander Scriabin (1872-1915), a composer he has set about making more well-known via both concerts and his Scriabin CD. Carrying the Mazurka form forward, he began with four short Mazurkas from Scriabin's early 'Opus 3.' They were charming and poetic. From these, we progressed chronologically through Scriabin's amazing evolution, both in moods and complexity. Much of the music had a demonic character. The many turbulent sections presented tremendous technical challenges, but again Sudbin scarcely seemed to notice. His dynamic range was immense, but more amazing was his Horowitz-like ability to keep multiple dynamics going at the same time.

Not since Kissin played here have I heard the Meany audience so vocal in its applause for a performer. He played only one encore, Scriabin's "Valse, Op. 38 in A-Flat major, signaling to us with a wave that we had come to the end. Yet, one did not sense any lack of generosity, for the encore itself was a technical tour de force that had the artist at last approaching the limits of his power, actually rising off the bench to pull the last degree of volume from the new Steinway. This gesture was almost shocking, for the entire recital was utterly lacking in affectation or flamboyance of gesture.

Predicting a great career is always folly, but Yegeny Sudbin is the kind of talent that makes one tempted to exclaim to the heavens that a new greatness has arrived. If Seattle is lucky enough to see him again soon, don't hesitate to do whatever is necessary to hear him.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rod@sgn.org.
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