Liszt • Saint-Saëns • Ravel
To be fair, Yevgeny Sudbin hasn’t written his booklet note for this release in his first language and it contains some interesting and thoughtful ideas. Even so his sloppy, blog‑like style is off-putting. For example, he describes the 1837 version of Liszt’s Transcendental Studies as ‘an obscene collection of notes’, and how ‘the womaniser Liszt’ brought about ‘divorces being filed en masse whenever he appeared in town’. And there’s a similarly erratic tendency in Sudbin’s playing, too.
His Liszt is remarkable. The F minor Transcendental Study’s brand of miraculous virtuosity, at once tumultuous and limpid, is marvellously captured. So are the pre-Debussy sonorities of ‘Harmonies du soir’; and you won’t hear the lingering close of Petrarch Sonnet No. 123 played more simply nor more beautifully.
Sudbin’s way with Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre, too, though looser-reined (and more loosely pedalled), is spectacularly exciting. But his performance of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit is a disappointment. In ‘Ondine’ the mood of spectral allure is lacking; and midway through ‘Le gibet’ an un-notated and unconvincing lurch into a ripe forte is surely not justified by Sudbin’s statement that Ravel in his own recordings ‘did not always follow what he preached’. Something similar happens in the middle section of ‘Scarbo’, most of which is approached in a relentless accelerator-and-brake manner that subverts the music’s underlying momentum. Plus points include superb recorded sound throughout, and BIS’s inclusion of the relevant texts of the Petrarch Sonnets, Gaspard de la nuit and Danse macabre in the booklet.