Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas in D minor, K. 417 ‘Fuga’, in A major, K. 208, in C major, K. 159, in C minor, K. 56, in D minor, K. 213, in G major, K. 125, in G minor, K. 373, in D major, K. 119, in F minor, K. 69, in G major, K. 425, in D major, K. 29, in C minor, K. 99, in G minor, K. 12, in D major, K. 479, in D minor, K. 9, in F-Sharp major, K. 318, in D minor, K. 141, & in D minor, K. 32 ‘Aria’
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
Recording: St. George’s Bristol, England (July 2014, February 2015) – 74’ 30
BIS Hybrid SACD BIS-2138 – Booklet in English, German and French
Russian born Yevgeny Sudbin is 36 this month and best known in the UK where he has lived since 1997. His primary teacher at the Royal Academy of Music was Christopher Elton (who also taught Benjamin Grosvenor), and he has worked further with Maria Curcio, Stephen Kovacevich and Murray Perahia among others – literally, the cream of London-based piano coaches during recent decades. While Sudbin’s family left Russia when he was ten years old and initially was based in Germany, he is completely a pianist in the Russian tradition. His easy virtuosity, transparency and beautifully calibrated dynamic range are redolent of the most legendary pianists born there during the 20th century, and it’s no surprise to find Sudbin mentioning Vladimir Horowitz more than once in his booklet essay for this hybrid SACD/CD release of Scarlatti Sonatas.
In a word, this disc is outstanding. It stands easy comparison with rivals past and present (Horowitz to Hewitt, and more), and should be a strong contender for a range of awards during 2016. It has been stunningly recorded and listeners with an SACD-compatible player and surround audio setup will be particularly rewarded.
Sudbin gets down to business with the contrapuntal Sonata in D minor, K. 417, bringing rhythmic poise and fine legato from his Steinway at the outset. He plays in a pianistic fashion rather than the more dry approach one might expect for music originally composed (mainly) for the harpsichord. There is nothing facile or disrespectful in this approach and the baroque elegance we associate with Scarlatti is omnipresent. The Sonata in A major, K. 208 is lyrical and delicate with flawless ornaments and particularly beautiful by highlighting of the subordinate mid-register theme. The Sonata in C major, K. 159 was recorded by Horowitz in the 1960s, though Sudbin is clearly not a Horowitz copycat. In this Sonata he uses considerably more pedal than Horowitz did, generating an echo ambience to the descending horn figurations; his bass accents, while clear and strong, are not as emphasized as what Horowitz typically did.
The playing, moreover, has a clarity and joyousness which will prompt many to listen more closely to Scarlatti’s creative techniques. The composer’s melodies often are mere scales or broken chords (ascending and descending) which Scarlatti plays with and pushes through exotic permutations echoing Bach (also born in 1865) and prefiguring Beethoven. The Sonata in D minor, K. 141 with its incessant chords following a repeated-note staccato melody has a dramatic quality sometimes suggesting Beethoven’s “Waldstein” Sonata.
Another highlight is the Sonata in F minor, K. 69 with its exquisite, multi-layered though not quite contrapuntal melodies on which Sudbin lavishes tremendous, liquid pianissimos. Similarly, the Sonata in F-Sharp major, K. 318 is slow and delicate, almost ethereal, while the Sonata in D minor, K. 9 begins with its familiar triplet melody soon developed with elaborate thirds and trills, all of which Sudbin plays masterfully.
The disc ends with the brief, coda-like Sonata in D minor, K. 32 that again features a triplet melody, though this time slow and lyrical – a lovely conclusion for a superb recording.
Charles Pope Jr.