Yevgeny Sudbin has carved out an impressive career since arriving here at seventeen.
Still not yet thirty, he’s performed with such panache at the Proms, and released such stunning CDs of Scarlatti and Rachmaninov, that his following is now bigger than the Wigmore can contain. This concert, introduced by his own persuasive programme notes, promised particularly well. From Scarlatti and Haydn – aesthete-jokers both far in advance of their time – to Chopin, and then after the interval Medtner and Prokofiev: Sudbin had already proved he has what it takes to handle all of these.
Yet his opening was disconcerting. Scarlatti’s gently lyrical F minor sonata Kk466 was impeccably played, but oddly ponderous; the spring-heeled Sonata in G Kk455 tore along at a fantastic speed, but there was no sense of that lightness of being which this composer so joyfully radiates. Despite their freshly-imagined feel, these pieces didn’t have the poetry of Sudbin’s recordings.
The moods and modes of Haydn’s E minor sonata HXVI:34 reflect a playfully Beethovenian determination to subvert our expectations, and Sudbin turned the central Adagio into a wonderfully drifting musical stream of consciousness. Yet the first movement, though finely controlled, felt wrong. Sudbin had chosen some unusual ornamentation which added an extra layer of spit and polish to the angular melodic lines, but it sounded like Haydn dragged by the scruff of his neck into modern times. As with the Scarlatti, I wished Sudbin would let up on the pedal: the big, bright sound of the Steinway was simply too much for the music. Scarlatti’s airy magic and Haydn’s intricate expressiveness required a subtler approach – as did the Chopin Mazurkas which followed. Each was vividly characterised, but a heavily-pedalled bass often smudged the delicately allusive poetry above.
One had the feeling that everything was leading up to Medtner and Prokofiev, who had somehow cast their shadows before, and with these compatriots Sudbin was finally in his element. He made a strong case for Medtner’s underrated ‘Fairy Tales’, then delivered the sly melodiousness and fistfuls of notes in Prokofiev’s explosive Sonata No 7 with supreme assurance; virtuosic encores by Scriabine and Rachmaninov brought the house down. Sonically overpowering but artistically underwhelming, this performance did not detract from the fact that this boy from St Petersburg is one of the brightest young pianists on the scene, but one senses that, for now, will is drowning out the voice of his intuition.