Fast-track Russian pianist to make Miami debut

By Lawrence A. Johnson

Music aficionados with an interest in first-class keyboard talent should make the trek to Florida International University Wednesday night to hear Yevgeny Sudbin make his South Florida debut.

 The 28-year-old Russian pianist has released a string of impressive recordings on the Bis label, including concertos of Tchaikovsky and Medtner, and discs devoted to Scarlatti, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff. His program for Friends of Chamber Music of Miami will include music of Haydn, Chopin, Medtner, and Ravel. 

 Speaking from Minnesota, where he is recording the first installment of a complete Beethoven concerto cycle with Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra, Sudbin discussed his repertoire., influences and approach to Beethoven.

 SFCR: You have worked with Vanska before? 

 YS: Yes, I’ve worked with Vanska twice now, in Beethoven Four and Beethoven Five, and every time it’s been a great experience. We start with number four now, and then we do number five, and that’s going to be the first CD.

 SFCR: Is it daunting to record Beethoven when the century’s greatest pianists— Schnabel, Brendel, Gilels, etc. —have left such a vast Beethoven legacy on disc?

 YS:  I think you can always find something new in music, no matter how often they’re recorded;  if you don’t look for it too hard and don’t try too hard to be original.

 The trick is not to get bogged down by the fact that these pieces are recorded so often. I mean the Tchaikovsky has also been recorded a lot and played in concerts but I always enjoy playing it. With Beethoven there’s more of a sense of tradition but as long as you feel strongly about what you’re doing, it should be all right.

 SFCR: I enjoyed your recordings very much, the Rachmaninoff and the Scriabin especially. .

 YS: Thanks very much.  The Russian repertoire is very comfortable for me (laughs). 

 I think Scriabin has an incredible gift in knowing how to manipulate the colors of the modern piano. Particularly on a good instrument, you can do incredible things just because his writing lends itself to color manipulation of the instrument. I think that’s something I think about and try to understand.

  You can do so many individual things with him, and there are so many ways to approach Scriabin. I think every recording you hear sounds like a completely different composer!

 SFCR: Do you prefer the later Scriabin pieces to the more Chopin-inspired early works?

 YS: Well, even in the earlier works you see the individuality. I think even early Scriabin has a bit of dark undertones. He did follow from Chopin, but you can hear the chromatic movement even early on in the Mazurkas. I think they’re still there, kind of foretelling what will come later.

 SFCR: I was glad to see your Rachmaninoff disc contained the complete Chopin Variations, which is still a work that’s hardly ever performed or recorded.

 YS: It is actually quite a tricky piece to perform.  It’s early Rachmaninoff and a bit more awkward to play for me. But I think the essence of Rachmaninoff is still there. Just the writing can be exhaustive—and exhausting!  


  SFCR: I’m glad to see you’re playing some Medtner in Miami, which is not a composer we hear very often.

 YS:  Actually, I love Medtner very much. I also recorded the Second Concerto now. I think he’s one of the most underrated composers.

 SFCR: The knock on Medtner over the years is that he is a kind of Rachmaninoff without the tunes.

 YS: I don’t feel that way. He is a master of compositional technique. He really knows how to compose and he has the most incredible understanding of rhythm. Whenever I hear the Fairy Tales, I hear different kinds of syncopations. But I can’t play too much Medtner because every single work is incredibly difficult.

SFCR: With the long distinguished line of Russian pianists over the last century, are there any in particular that were an influence on you?

 YS: I did grow up with Richter recordings. And recordings of Moiseiwitsch, Josef Hoffman, Rachmaninoff, and of course Horowitz. But even if I don’t like a pianist, I look out for things that will enhance my own understanding.

 SFCR: You’re also playing Haydn in Miami, which will be your next recording. In the U.S., we don’t hear Haydn sonatas that often, since most pianists seem to prefer to open concerts with Mozart.

 YS: I actually prefer Haydn’s sonatas to Mozart’s.  You can break more rules with Haydn. Mozart’s sonatas are wonderfully imaginative but they leave less room for individual interpretation.

 It’s a little like Scarlatti in that respect. You have so much more freedom with Haydn. And the humor, of course is unparalleled. It’s difficult sometime not to start laughing when you’re playing!”

 Yevgeny Sudbin performs 8 p.m. Wednesday at Wertheim Performing Arts Center on the FIU campus, 10910 SW 17th St., Miami. The program includes Haydn’s Sonatas in B minor Hob XVI/32 and C Major  HobXVI/50; Medtner’s Two Fairy Tales; Chopin’s Mazurkas in D Major and B Minor; and Ravel’s Gaspard de la Nuit. 305-372-2975;

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Mon Jan 19, 2009
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