MOZART: Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor K. 491; BEETHOVEN: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Minor Op. 37 = Yevgeny Sudbin, p./ Minnesota Orch./ Osmo Vänskä – BIS multichannel SACD 1978, 66:16 [2/25/14] [Distr. by Naxos] *****: 

With this CD Osmo Vänskä, the Minnesota Orchestra and BIS proclaim once again that the recordings they are producing in Minneapolis are among the best symphonic recordings being made in North America–which means in the world. Also with this latest release of C minor piano concertos by Mozart and Beethoven, young St. Petersburg-born pianist Yevgeny Sudbin shows he is capable of greatness.

Beginning with the ominous opening bars of Mozart’s K. 491, the musicians and engineers conspire together to bring out the changing character of the music, from dark-toned and moody to bucolic splashes of sunshine and light, setting the stage for Sudbin to roll the music out from under his fingers as if the composer were playing, delighting in what he had created.

With woodwinds and horns brilliantly attentive to their roles in the dialogue and the development of excitement and pace, complemented by smooth and glorious strings, especially when Beethoven is raising the writing to symphonic stature, as in the Largo, Sudbin creates a smooth flow out of interpretive decisions seemingly based on wherever he can find the most beauty in a phrase or line, rhapsodically safe and secure within Mozart’s virtuosic blueprints.

In a concerto for which Mozart unfortunately left much of the solo part unwritten and published no cadenzas it’s highly appropriate that Sudbin roll his own, especially as they are so engaging as they are here. He takes chances throughout the entire Concerto not only in the two formally designated cadenzas but in numerous places where Mozart expected the soloist to add, embellish, underline, or energize, including a unique little hiccoughing trick of his own combining a turn and a trill. 

In the first movement cadenza, Sudbin is all over the place in a heady, stylistically conservative but intriguingly eclectic mix inherited from the musicological crowd which fits the emotionally intoxicated nature of the piece. Sudbin’s last movement cadenza crowns an astonishing exploration of the harmonic disturbances that lie beneath the last movement’s theme and variations, and lead to a tremendous finish.

Sudbin continues the same level of inspiration in the first movement of the Beethoven, but by the time he and Vanska allow Beethoven’s very long introduction to roll out, they have lost a split second of the magic that comes from momentum and from then on the music making is merely rich and evocative.

Sudbin plays Beethoven’s cadenzas and finds in them the proud splendor of the early days deepened by a newfound dramatic sense that culminates in the minor key interruption towards the end of the first movement cadenza; the futuristic harmonic implications of the closing trill before the orchestra enters for one of the most profound closes Beethoven ever wrote to a concerto, throws into great relief the power of classical music at the time and how different than Mozart Beethoven was growing to be.

In the harmonically clashing slow movement, at ten minutes the longest slow movement of any of Beethoven’s concertos, the music slows a bit and loses its essential glow but recovers in time for a final Allegro that has Sudbin holding on for a wild ride a la Pecos Bill which Vanska and the Orchestra are all too glad to accommodate, leaving no doubt that the Minnesota basic concept of Beethoven is to make it beautiful, physical and lots of fun.

Overall, a fine BIS recording captures the music with audiophile accuracy and naturalness which incorporates seamlessly the brilliant range of sound, dynamic range and color made by Sudbin’s Steinway D. Recorded at Orchestra Hall in 2011 and 2012, and even more sumptuously in SACD mode, the sound is an equal partner in presenting the tremendous efforts of the musical crew.

—Laurence Vittes