tchaikovsky piano bis

Romeo and Juliet – Tchaikovsky on the Piano
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Bella Sudbin (primo piano in four hand items)
rec. 2022-22, Sendessaal, Bremen; Västerås Concert Hall, Sweden; Lisztzentrum, Raiding

Yevgeny Sudbin has several acclaimed recordings under his belt with Russian music well represented – Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky are joined by all three of Nikolai Medtner’s piano concertos as well as Scriabin’s less familiar piano concerto. This new recording explores Tchaikovsky at the piano, both in original solo works and orchestral works transcribed by Sudbin. In two of these, the waltzes from the Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty, he is joined by his daughter Bella.

It is Glinka who opens proceedings though; the overture to Ruslan and Ludmila is a favourite concert opener and one that Sudbin, as he writes in his booklet notes, has heard countless times while waiting for his concerto appearance. It is no less a tour-de-force in Sudbin’s virtuosic transcription than it is in its original form. Crystal clear articulation throughout and some lovely pedal effects in the more atmospheric sections. Virtuosity is found in equal measure in Tchaikovsky’s Dumka in which he combines two contrasting moods, deeply melancholic at the outset, rustic and dance-like later. Another theme, rambunctious and energetic makes itself known in the central section and it is in this that Tchaikovsky lets loose, finding decorative flourishes aplenty, each one lasting just a couple of bars before he thinks Ah, but I could do this…or even this…maybe even this. There is a huge dramatic curve to this relatively short piece and Sudbin finds every ounce of its passion, bringing a rhapsodic swagger to the dance elements and some real tenderness elsewhere, particularly the G minor poco meno mosso. Such beautiful moments are plentiful elsewhere; the opening of November from the seasons or the Nocturne from his op.19 set. The solo items here are a welcome selection with some less familiar works such as the nocturne from op.10 that sits alongside its more familiar companion, the sprightly humoresque and three less often heard items from his final set of 18 pieces op.72; tendres reproches, achingly lyrical and containing some utterly delightful staccato playing from Sudbin, the gorgeous heart on sleeve emotions of the Chant élégiaque, that rivals parts of the dumka for concentrated passion and finally the charming valse à cinq temps, disarmingly playful and capricious under Sudbin’s fingers.

Tchaikovsky in transcription completes this recital; in the waltz from Sleeping Beauty Sudbin adds a few subtle changes to the transcription made by Rachmaninov at Tchaikovsky’s request. The Waltz of the flowers transcription is all Sudbin and is more in the spirit of the golden age pianists with some delicious filigree, the occasional cheeky jazz touch, a brief music box and grand Hollywood waltz wrapped up one hugely enjoyable package. As if all this wasn’t enough Sudbin ends with his marvellous transcription of the 1880 version of Tchaikovsky’s ever popular Romeo and Juliet overture, joining Vyacheslav Gryaznov and Florian Noack among modern pianists who have turned their talents to transcribing this wonderfully atmospheric piece. Like them he is not content with a straightforward transcription; some of the slow sustained passages are tastefully filled out either with tremolandi or other figurations that allow the passages to sing but he never obscures Tchaikovsky’s voice with unnecessary fireworks and the whole is a superb recreation of the work in terms of the piano.

I can’t praise this album enough; Sudbin gives us a recital of extraordinary and joyous piano playing, none more so than when he plays alongside his daughter and this disc makes it way straight into my Recordings of the Year list.

Rob Challinor

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Mikhail Glinka
Ruslan and Ludmila
, overture (1842, arr. Yevgeny Sudbin)
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Waltz of the flowers – piano four hands (1892, arr. Yevgeny Sudbin)
Sleeping Beauty
Waltz – piano four hands (1889, arr. Yevgeny Sudbin)
Romeo and Juliet
fantasy overture (1869/1880, arr. Yevgeny Sudbin)Dumka – scéne rustique Russe Op.59 (1886)
from The Seasons Op.37 No.11 (1876)
from The Seasons Op.37 No.6 (1876)
Two Pieces Op.10 (1872)
Nocturne Op.19 No.4 (1873)
18 Pieces Op.72 Nos.3, 16 and 14 (1893)