International Piano Festival Singapore
SOTA Concert Hall
20 June 2013)
This review was published in The Straits Times on 22 June 2013 with the title "Sudbin amazes at piano fest opening".
The 20th edition of the venerated Singapore International Piano Festival opened with a recital by a pianist that reflects the spirit and ethos of the nation’s premier keyboard event. Young Russian Yevgeny Sudbin is on the rising arc of a considerable concert career. He is an artist unafraid to take on unusual and adventurous recital programmes to challenge and to provoke.
Although the underlying theme of this festival was “Music and Movement”, with an acknowledged nod to the dance genre, Sudbin centred his recital on varying states of mood and mind. With it, he pondered on life, with its joys and toils, and mortality. An entire half of Franz Liszt’s music encapsulated this viewpoint.
Opening with Funerailles (from the cycle of Poetic And Religious Harmonies), its tolling bells were deliberately oppressive rather than exultant. Through this arose an air of nobility, representing his downtrodden Hungarian kin and their call to arms. The hair-raising episode of stampeding octaves was judged to perfection, which was later echoed by the Tenth Transcendental Study in F minor that closed the set.
In between both works was pure poetry, flowing lyricism in Petrarch’s Sonnet No.104 which decried Pace non trovo (I Find No Peace), and the ever-expanding chords of Harmonies du soir (Evening Harmonies) which reassured all was well in the world. The audience’s insistence of applauding between each piece must have distracted, interrupting Sudbin’s train of thought for the beginning of the closing etude in order to take a bow. A minor memory lapse was an unfortunate result.
There were thankfully no such intrusions in the second half, which began with a portrayal of grief in two minor key Scarlatti Sonatas – beautifully realised - and Sudbin’s own transcription of the Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem. In the latter, he explored harmonies and resonances more far-ranging than Liszt himself.
The final part of the recital was devoted to the pleasurable state of ecstasy. Debussy’s L’Isle Joyeuse delighted in series of trills and rhythmic thrills, exhibiting an innocent happiness with a rapturous tumble to the bottom of the keyboard. Quite different was Scriabin’s Fifth Sonata, sometimes called “The Poem of Ecstasy”, for its fulminant, carnal outbursts and flame-throwing to the highest registers.
Sudbin possessed the requisite technique and rapier-quick reflexes to make both pieces work. Comparisons with the legacies of Richter and Horowitz are not out of place here. Three encores, by Scriabin, Scarlatti and Sudbin’s own tongue-in-cheek and uproariously vulgar conflation of Chopin’s Minute Waltz (by way of Hungarian show-boater György Cziffra and Ravel’s La Valse) had the audience in stitches.
The reaction of amazement and sometimes disbelief is one regularly encountered in this festival over the last two decades. Long may that continue.