Sunday, 30 November 2014

Review: Yevgeny Sudbin at Live at LICA

Yevgeny Sudbin at Live at LICA
Thursday, 27 November 2014
in the Great Hall, Lancaster University

Reviewed by Sally Ryde

If, Dear Reader, you are looking for a report of facts about the most recent event in this season’s Live at LICA concert series, then you may be pleased to learn that all went well. The programme was suitably varied and covered three centuries of composers and musical styles. The performer gave a faultless performance full of contrasts, including tempi and dynamics, and phrasing was immaculate throughout. Indeed, the only adverse comment I can make is that the titles of the three Rachmaninov preludes, being Op.32 no.12 in G sharp minor, Op.32 no.5 in G major and Op.23 no.5 in G minor were sufficiently confusing to the type setter of the printed programme to end up as a garbled mess of permutations of numbers and keys with one of the preludes failing altogether to get through to the printed page.

But so what? Concerts are hardly all about facts and opinions. Indeed, as I sat ‘enthralled’ in the ‘personal experience’ of the ‘glorious’ sounds coming from that expensive piece of furniture (the university’s newish concert grand piano), I began to wonder just what makes people bother to come to live concerts when these days they can buy mistake-free CDs and DVDs. It did not take me long to realise that words like “enthralled”, “experience” and “glorious” express feelings and emotions that cannot be recorded mechanically. In short, we attend live concerts for the thrills we get.

Someone once reported the thrill he got by being present at the first meeting of the two actors who played the parts of James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard. (“May I presume that this is the first meeting of the two starship captains? I knew it! And I was there!”) The key to the thrill was being present.

Keen astronomers report that the experiences of looking at photographs of distant stars and galaxies or watching live telescope images on a computer screen pale by comparison to that of turning ones eye up to the night sky and letting the age-old photons complete their 1000 or million-year journeys by physically striking the retina of the beholder. Or to paraphrase the Eddie Murphy character, a king can never be so wealthy that he would choose to have servants make love for him. To be thrilled, you have to be there yourself.
Photo credit Clive Barda

I found myself thrilled by the Scarlatti piece which opened the evening and by all three items played in the second half. The programme notes, written by Mr Sudbin himself, declared the Scarlatti keyboard sonatas to be “outrageously individual”. I think it was probably the outrageous simplicity of the ‘Sonata in G minor’, coupled with the performer’s delicate control of dynamics, that caught my imagination and put me in the right mood for the remainder of the concert.

There was nothing wrong with the Beethoven Bagatelles and I do love any Chopin at any time, but the next true thrill for me came with the first Shostakovich piece after the interval. Listeners to his symphonies can come to believe that this composer had no sense of the miniature. Just how wrong they would be is immediately evident in his preludes. Op.34 no.6 in B minor is a beautiful example in which the right hand ‘does its own thing’ while the left hand lays down a simple riff.

The third Shostakovich prelude Op.34 no.24 in D minor contains musical elements which, to me, reference both of the composers that followed. Like Shostakovich (and others, including JS Bach who enjoyed the task so much that he carried it out twice), Rachmaninov also wrote preludes in each of the 12 major and 12 minor keys—a set of 24 pieces. His Op.23 no.5 in G minor is one of the better known but there is something about the Op.32 no.12 in G sharp minor that turns me on.

The Shostakovich link to the final composer Prokofiev is to be found in the two composers’ scoring for piano. Both, but Prokofiev in particular, on occasion treated the instrument as a member of the percussion family—the notes being played by striking the string rather than caressing it. The sustaining pedal is abandoned in favour of repeated hammering.

Virtually any Prokofiev keyboard piece can be cited as an example but the last movement of his seventh piano sonata, the final programme item, illustrates the percussive effect wonderfully. What a thrilling end to a concert already full of thrills!

Although we were consoled to some extent by the two encores, we still felt let down when it became clear that there would be no more.

S. Ryde

Artist’s website:

Concert Programme:
D. Scarlatti: 2 Sonatas, G minor and K455 in G major
Beethoven: 6 Bagatelles, Op.126
Chopin: Ballade No.3 in A flat, Op.47
Shostakovich: Preludes Op.34, No.6 in B minor, No.17 in A flat and No.24 in D minor
Rachmaninov: Preludes Op.32/12 in G sharp minor, Op.32/5 in G major and Op.23/5 in G minor
Prokofiev: Sonata No.7 in B flat major, Op.83

Tickets were priced (24 web saver):  Adults £17.50, Concessions £15.75, Students and under 26s £8.00

Future musical events at Live at LICA:

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