A playful performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2 by Yevgeny Sudbin

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Piano Concertos Nos 1 & 2; String Quartet No. 8 (arr. Giltburg); String Quartet No. 2 – Waltz (arr. Giltburg)
PERFORMER: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano); Tapiola Sinfonietta/Osmo Vänskä


Confession: it’s taken me a long time to get Beethoven’s first two piano concertos. Perhaps the problem is that performers have tended to emphasise what they see as intimations of grandeur and pathos to come. One of the things that makes these performances so refreshing is the different kind of focus they bring. Certainly the earlier ‘Second’ Concerto is not the ‘sombre and spiritual’ entity Margaret Dumont proclaims it to be in the Marx Brothers’ At the Circus. For pianist Yevgeny Sudbin and conductor Osmo Vänskä it’s playfulness that prevails in the outer movements – indebted to Mozart in the first, more muscular and earthy in the finale. Even the slow movement has a delicious, un-portentous lightness of touch, with Sudbin’s fragile, beautifully pedalled cadenza as its quiet climax.

The lack of monumentality, of earnest striving, in the First Concerto is just as welcome. Yes, Beethoven’s teasing can be a bit like watching a tiger playing with its prey, but it can also be feather-light, and Sudbin clearly relishes both. There’s power in the solo playing, but it’s the Russian pianist’s delicate, finely imagined beauty that really stands out – in this respect this Concerto is quite an advance on ‘No. 2’.

Sudbin’s cadenzas are highlights: hints of jazz harmonies and the later Romantics, but all done with a light ironic touch that sits elegantly with the performance as a whole. Could there be just a little more Beethovenian inwardness? Perhaps, but both of these expertly recorded performances convince on their own terms.


Stephen Johnson