Yevgeny Sudbin — Image via yevgenysudbin.com

Beethoven & Mozart Piano Concertos

Yevgeny Sudbin & Minnesota Orchestra
Conducted by Osmo Vänskä

In 2009, pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, the Minnesota Orchestra, and conductor Osmo Vänskä began a six-year project to perform and record all of Beethoven’s piano concertos, plus Mozart’s influential Piano Concerto No. 24. Sadly, this project was cut short by the lockout of the orchestra’s musicians by management (now in its 17th month), leaving the newly released recording of Beethoven’s third concerto paired with the Mozart as the final document of this fruitful collaboration and quite possibly the final commercial recording of the Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Vänskä.

The recording begins with Mozart’s concerto. Sudbin and the orchestra give the piece a passionate performance in which the music’s tendency to shift between intimate introspection and assertive force comes to the fore. A perfect example is the first brief piano passage more than two minutes into the first movement. Initially, Sudbin makes it sound like he is playing privately for himself, but then he almost imperceptibly transitions to a more emphatic approach that challenges the orchestra to re-enter the scene. Throughout the piece, Sudbin and the orchestra take many other opportunities to demonstrate their seeming effortlessness in navigating contrasting moods. Sudbin also highlights this element of the piece in his own cadenza for the first movement, which sounds like something that could have been written by Schumann.

Beethoven & Mozart Piano Concertos — Image via eclassical.comBeethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3 echoes Mozart’s piece both in its key (C minor) and in its juxtaposition of stormy, assertive music with more reflective episodes, though in the Beethoven, the former is more prominent. Sudbin’s virtuosity dazzles in this piece, while the orchestra and Vänskä bring to it the same clarity, control, and dynamism that characterized their lauded cycle of Beethoven’s symphonies. Vänskä’s ability to make the large forces of the orchestra sound like a chamber group pays off particularly in the slow middle movement, resulting in an enrapturing interplay between soloist and orchestra.

Throughout both concertos, the recorded sound is excellent. The engineers have managed to make the piano sound like a solo instrument during solo passages without artificially separating it from the orchestra during integrated passages or introducing awkward transitions between the two. All of the sections in the orchestra also stand out clearly, again without any artificial-sounding manipulations.

Due to the orchestra’s ongoing lockout and Vänskä’s resignation from the position of music director, Sudbin has announced that he and the conductor will complete their Beethoven cycle with Finland’s Tapiola Sinfonietta. In light of these developments, this recording stands as a testament to both the artistic potential and the fragility of collaboration between first-rate musicians driven by a common vision and purpose.

Yevgeny Sudbin photo by Clive Barda

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.