Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 4 & 5
PERFORMER: Yevgeny Sudbin (piano); Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
CATALOGUE NO: BIS-SACD-1758 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The clarity of Yevgeny Sudbin’s playing, and the range of keyboard colours he commands are qualities that serve him as well in Beethoven as they did in his fine Scriabin recital for BIS a few years back. He is particularly successful here in the more intimate and chamber-like Fourth Concerto, where the transparency and lightness of his touch produce an irresistibly sparkling account of the finale. And in the famous slow movement, with the soloist gradually taming the orchestral outbursts, Sudbin is deeply expressive without a hint of self-indulgence.

There’s much to like about Sudbin’s Emperor, too. The Adagio is admirably luminous, and so too in the opening movement is the delicately tripping passage in the minor that pre-echoes the assertive march-like second subject. That minor-mode episode leads to an expressive moment in a widely-spaced sonority, where the music seems to be holding its breath before the march itself finally bursts out.

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It’s become traditional to relax the tempo slightly here, but Sudbin slows down so radically that the music loses all sense of impetus, and seems to have stepped out of another piece altogether. Sudbin injects too much dynamic shading, also, into the long passage in powerful double octaves at the centre of the movement, so that the effect of Beethoven’s eventual diminuendo is weakened. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to make one look forward to the continuation of this Beethoven concertos project. The Minnesota Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä is as impressive as ever. Misha Donat