Yevgeny Sudbin

Essays

   Title  
"Who is Medtner?" This is a common reaction when I'm asked what I have been playing recently. To be fair, the more well-informed will sometimes inquire if that is the guy who sounds "a bit paler than Rachmaninov" or "like a sort of Russian Brahms". These two rather poorly drawn but frequently expressed comparisons would without doubt make Medtner turn at least twice in his grave. Rachmaninov, his great friend and admirer, once said "Medtner is too much of an individual to bear resemblance to anyone except the Russian composer Medtner". Incidentally, he also said : "I repeat what I said to you back in Russia: you are, in my opinion, the greatest composer of our time"...
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Oh how easy it is to become possessed by Scriabin, one of the most enigmatic and controversial artistic personalities of all time. Once one is bitten and the venom, in the form of his sound world, enters the body and soul, the effects become all-encompassing, even life-threatening! Not only emotionally - as one's desperate quest for answers only results in more questions - but also physically, the reactions can be severe. Scriabin was not only the first to introduce madness into music; he also managed to synthesize it into an infectious virus that is entirely music-borne and affects the psyche in a highly irrational way. Thus 'mystical experiences' have been reported by listeners...
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Probably one of the most outrageously individual compositional outputs of the Baroque era is to be found in the keyboard sonatas of Domenico Scarlatti. Scarlatti was born in 1685, in the same year as J. S. Bach and Handel and two years earlier than Rameau. His sonatas pose an exception to most "rules" in musical history. Unlike so many other compositions, it is impossible to trace at all clearly the influences on which their style depends. They stand out undoubtedly as Scarlatti's own, highly original inventions. Some parallels can be drawn with Frescobaldi, C. P. E. Bach or Handel, but very few. We can only imagine how alien the sonatas must have sounded at the time that they were written and it is small wonder that they were nicknamed, somewhat misleadingly, "original and happy freaks"...
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As the dying Romantic tradition came to be replaced by counter-movements where (particularly after Stravinsky) the expression of personal emotion in musical composition became unfashionable and even a taboo, should Rachmaninov then be viewed in the context of the time-line of music history and its ever-changing trends? For the most part, the emotional content derives from a strong logical and structural foundation embedded in the works, which makes the emotional effects even more penetrating. Such genuine emotion transcends passing fashion and is valid for all time. As Rachmaninov himself said: 'Music must first and foremost be loved, it must come from the heart and it must be directed to the heart. Otherwise it cannot hope to be lasting, indestructible art'...
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For a long time I have revered the warm and respectful friendship between two of Russia's greatest composers: Sergei Rachmaninov and Nikolai Medtner. The support and encouragement that Rachmaninov offered to his friend and colleague during the periods of tormenting self-doubt were always reciprocated by Medtner, as witnessed by many letters. Unfortunately the latter never came close to attaining the same level of recognition as Rachmaninov, either during his lifetime or since. Rachmaninov recognized his gifts early enough, however, pronouncing Medtner the 'greatest composer of our time'. The most sincere testament to this unique friendship is embodied in these two piano concertos, which the composers dedicated to one another...
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Is laughter the best medicine? I certainly hope so and would not hesitate to prescribe a healthy dose of Joseph Haydn (1732-1809), twice daily. Surely music by a composer who delights in silliness and the breaking of all conventions and who masters wit at the highest level can only be beneficial. Georg August Griesinger, an early Haydn biographer, described one of the composer's main character traits as 'a sort of innocent mischievousness, or what the British call humour'. Another contemporary of Haydn's, Albert Christoph Dies, reports that he confessed to sometimes experiencing how 'a certain kind of humour takes possession of you and cannot be restrained'. Anyone who occasionally has an involuntary fit of the giggles will know the feeling. But how does this translate into music? Griesinger commented that especially Haydn's 'Allegros and Rondeaux are often intended to lure the listener into the highest degree of the comical by frivolous twists and turn of the seemingly serious'...
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In search of the ‘perfect’ Chopin interpretation…

Chopin’s music presents us with a strange paradox: the average listener will find it instantly accessible, at an emotional level at least; some of the nocturnes, for instance, are often heard in movies and will easily bring a tear to the eye of the average movie-goer. Yet for the performer, in my experience and in the experience of many of my colleagues, the music’s raw, direct appeal to human emotions presents huge dilemmas when it comes to execution, and when searching for answers to certain interpretative problems one will usually end up with more questions. Inevitably it becomes a tough balancing act on a tightrope: on the one side, naïvety and blandness threaten, while, on the other side, a laboured and contrived approach could potentially damage the music even further. It is not easy to articulate these interpretative challenges properly but, simply put, the notes as they stand have such an incredible power of expression that imposing yourself can often diminish the piece’s expressive impact. This can make our job (as interpreters) deceptively easy or impossibly difficult.

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