LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; Apres une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 in F-sharp Minor – Mykola Suk, piano – Music & Arts CD-1234, 79:15 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Mykola Suk (b. 1945) is a Ukrainian pianist who won First Prize in the 1971 Liszt-Bartok Competition in Budapest. His principal teacher was Lev Vlasenko, to whom Suk dedicates this all-Liszt recital, culled from various live appearances at Mannes College 2004-2008. Suk has his own ideas about the B Minor Sonata (22 July 2008), which he plays for its extreme ecstatic convulsions in dark and light. A broad thoughtful approach marks Suk’s rendition, providing a majestic canvas whose musical periods resemble as much a Bruckner Symphony as much as they recycle Schubert’s one-movement formula that naturally subdivides into affective variants of an original impulse. At several moments of peroration, the bass harmonies from Suk belie the upward D Major sweep of the music and suggest that the Abyss yawns before us. For its moments of relative repose, Liszt takes us into B Major; and there, Suk indulges his intimate thoughts on mortality and heroism. But Suk enters Liszt’s chthonian world with the same headlong conviction as he does the lyrical flights of fancy, as they provide mirrors of each other. The fugato episode maintains a sparkle and fleet acuity besides its fearless plummets into the Styx. The fulminating rush of volcanic ash that leaps out at us subsequent to this contrapunctus quite inspires holy terror. The final statement of the rising theme, grandioso, accepts life’s terrors and triumphs equally, Nietzsche’s amor fati. Suk’s double octaves overwhelm us, nothing short of a spectacular burst of orchestral sound.
The Dante Sonata (19 June 2005) may permit a more “programmatic” reading than the B Minor Sonata, insofar as the lyric tragedy of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo suffuses the score with heartbreak and tumultuous nostalgia. Suk at first understates the monstrously aggressive chromatics–centered around D Minor–that rage through Inferno, that place of Eternal Pain whose fires give forth no light. The music’s tender intertwining of chordal descent and limpid arpeggios reminds us that it was the legend of Guinevere and Lancelot that “served as a pander” for Paolo and Francesca Malatesta’s illicit love. “We read. . .but soon we read no further.” The stretti become inflamed, ardent, undeniable in their erotic urgency. Renewed, the pitiless winds of Inferno’s second bolgia resume their fury, even as the chordal progressions echo the “Abandon All Hope” motif. Dante, himself committed to passionate love, must swoon in sympathy to the lovers’ eternal trial; and in so finding communion, the sufferers and their living witness undergo an apotheosis into Liszt’s favored F-sharp Major, his key for beatitude. A glorious heartfelt performance, Suk’s sinewy version will fascinate and compel many repeated auditions of this grand vision.
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 (22 July 2007), with its application of gypsy and Byzantine scales, along with cimbalom effects, serves as an epic vehicle for Suk’s muscular talents. His alla musette approach charms by dint of its pearly play, its shuddering speed and delicacy. No less fluid is Suk’s capacity for legato and bel canto in Liszt, allowing his keyboard to flirt, to play the coquette in a salon melodrama. When the music declaims or rings with ecstatic fanfares, Suk’s resonant sonority easily evokes trumpets and national pipes. The admixture of alchemical, metrically jarring colors in the latter pages and demonic coda prove irresistible. Ask the Mannes crowd what they thought.
The A Minor Rhapsody No. 13 (19 July 2005) used to command the attention of wizard Mischa Levitzky, among others. Its melancholy evocation of the Magyar plains–lassan–allows for wisps of soaring reminiscence, then the consolation of a village dance tune. The trill itself becomes organic and explosive, alternating with the strummed plaint of the opening tune. Suk’s luftpausen attach an old-world allure to the erotic mysteries of this sultry piece whose friska section anticipates Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. The degree of control Suk exerts over the plastic superheated runs and staccati would astonish the Devil. Potent!
Finally, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 (18 July 2004), a particular favorite of Alexandre Brailowsky. Its askew lyricism warrants our attention for its ballade-like declamations interspersed with virile cadenzas. Suk’s rolled arpeggios assume the proportions of huge waves from a mercurial sea. The dance element exhibits much that Chopin flaunted in his bravura pieces, fleet, metrically intricate, and eminently impulsive. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the throes of the same tune Brahms utilized for his own Hungarian Dance, only more manic, outrageously self assured.