Sudbin and Vanska collaborate in music that shares common dramatic impulses.
MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 24 in c, K. 491; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in c, Op. 37 – Yevgeny Sudbin, p./ Minnesota Orch./ Osmo Vanska – BIS multichannel SACD-1978 (2/25/14), 66:16 [Distr. by Naxos ] ****:
Music historians consistently point out the tremendous influence of Mozart’s 1786 c minor Piano Concerto upon Beethoven’s 1804 c minor Concerto, so it seems somewhat inevitable that two collaborators and a responsive orchestra should combine them in the same program, recorded 2011 and 2012. Perhaps the social history of the recording itself warrants some comment, since the Minnesota Orchestra came close to dissolution, but conductor Osmo Vanska – having resigned as Musical Director – graciously stepped back to the podium for this project. Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin supplies his own (romantic) cadenzas for the Mozart, and they will provoke ears and eyebrows, much in the same way some two generations ago Artur Schnabel’s post-Modernist cadenzas raised hackles among the very musicians who participated in the recording for EMI. The emotional furor of the Mozart opening movement – utilizing the largest of Mozart’s orchestras – Allegro well captures its intensely furious and often tragic drama, close to The Marriage of Figaro, certainly, but even more passionate in its chromatic leaps and almost unrelenting sense of unrest. The orchestral response – particularly the Minnesota woodwinds – remain exquisitely alert to Mozart’s open work for oboes, clarinets, trumpet and active tympani, consistently in ¾ time. The E-flat Larghetto – whose beauty first revealed itself to me via Artur Rubinstein and Josef Krips – proffers a tender rondo that sets the keyboard as a jewel among gossamer woodwinds. The Minnesota bassoon quite steals the show, along with the liquid runs from Sudbin’s keyboard. The concluding last movement, Allegretto, set as an uncompromising set of eight variations on a c minor theme, refuses to mitigate the tragic urgency of the moment with few digressions or concessions to the tonic major. After another Sudbin’s idiosyncratic cadenzas – in the form of a fugue – does the keyboard engage a 6/8 meter for what might have been some form of emotional reconciliation, but it remains merely a “consummation devoutly to be wished.” The sense of musical ensemble dazzles us throughout, infectious and imaginatively engaging, at once.
The athletic energy we expect in Beethoven’s c minor Concerto comes to us in a full spectrum of colors, especially, once more, from the Minnesota woodwinds. The piece that most, to my mind, launches the composer’s “second period” of creative development, the Concerto ripples in its opening movement with all sorts of drama, especially in its motor and harmonic propulsion, the latter of which depends on carefully organized triads and intervals of the fourth. The key change at the development pits the singing piano against ostinato strings and color intrusions from flute, bassoon, and tympani. The notes C-E-flat and A-flat belong as much to the Mozart Concerto 24 as they do to Beethoven. Sudbin executes his own part with a liquid elan that proves as infectious as it is musical, often light in texture and the very foil to the “ponderous’ aspect of the “fate” motif.
The coda, with its tympanic sequence under the keyboard and strings, pants with colossal mystery. Sudbin rather milks the calm of the E Major Largo movement, but the desired, muted effect of an emotional oasis has been well wrought. The stately meditation proceeds with facile grace to the fine duet for flute and bassoon over piano arpeggios. The humorous surprise appears at the conclusion of the Largo, with the ff E Major chord in anticipation of the wicked rondo in c that concludes the Concerto. Sudbin and Vanska intend to make the last movement frothy and witty, as bustling in the instruments as it flutters in Sudbin’s trills. The clarinet aids in the antics, with its second, “operatic” theme that soon evolves into a fugue that – with all nods to Haydn – avoids the ritornello into c minor and detours into A-flat and the second movement’s E Major. The Minnesota tympanist has had a field day in all these permutations of color, and his contribution has become an indispensable aspect of the color landscape. A bit of gradus ad parnassum in Sudbin’s coda runs, spurred on by that manic tympani toward an unbuttoned finale in a triumphant C Major. The top-notch sound belongs to engineers Jens Braun (Beethoven) and Thore Brinkmann (Mozart).