Medtner • Scriabin

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Medtner; Scriabin
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Medtner: Piano Concerto No. 3 Scriabin: Piano Concerto
PERFORMER: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano); Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: 2088 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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These are superb performances of two underestimated concertos, of which Scriabin’s is perhaps the best known. Yevgeny Sudbin in the liner note protests at it being nicknamed ‘Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 3’, and describes the finale as most typical of Scriabin in its ‘tension, between light and darkness, chaos and order, ecstasy and excruciating pain’. I can’t say I hear these qualities: even in Sudbin’s performance that movement sounds like something Chopin might have composed had he lived in the late 19th century. Still, this is unquestionably an engaging account, Sudbin’s glistening and expressive virtuosity matched by Andrew Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic’s idiomatic playing, with touches of string portamento in the opening movement.

Even more revelatory is their performance of Medtner’s Third Concerto (1940-43). Subtitled ‘Ballade’, this is less a drama than a leisurely narrative – or rather, a series of monologues alternating, according to Medtner, between the water sprite Rusalka and her beloved mortal; beautiful and striking though many of its episodes are, this is not a concerto which unfolds with inevitable logic. Yet Sudbin, more than Nikolai Demidenko in his Hyperion recording, seems alert to its every note and creates a compelling journey, shaping every phrase through dynamic shading and contrast as well as rubato and dramatic ritenutos. Scriabin’s influence may be heard both in the finale’s hymn-like Andante con moto tranquillo, and in the yearning harmonies plus Scriabin-style trill a few bars earlier. The Bergen musicians’ playing is highly polished and finely attuned to Sudbin’s rhetorical approach.

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Daniel Jaffé