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Dip Your Ears, No. 135 (Medtner, Unsweetened)

available at Amazon
N.Medtner / S.Rachmaninoff, Piano Concertos Nos.2 & 4, Floods of Spring,
Y.Sudbin / North Carolina Sym. / G.Llewellyn

Yevgeny Sudbin is one of the very few pianists about whose recordings I get excited, no matter what repertoire he tackles. His Scriabin (see Dip Your Ears, No.86) and his Scarlatti have set a standard so high, that even very good Beethoven concertos (with the equally standard-setting Osmo Vänskä, no less) seemed to disappoint. His Medtner recordings are a bit older, the First Concerto coupled with Tchaikovsky’ First is from 2007—the Second Concert coupled with Rachmaninoff’s Fourth is from 2009. The first recording helped put the OSESP on the map in non-Brazilian repertoire, the second is attractive beyond the primary Medtner because it’s one of the more rarified readings of the Rachmaninoff Fourth (alongside Hough and Michelangeli).

Not all is perfect with this release: The sound is just a little muted, which is rare with BIS recordings… the amiably performing North Carolina Symphony—as good as that and no more—supports what turns into a Yevgeny Sudbin and Backup Combo show of Medtner’s wonderful Second Piano Concerto. But how good is Medtner’s concerto? Without hyperbole every bit as engaging and entertaining as Rachmaninoff’s!

There is a reason Medtner has his share of pianist- advocates: Marc-André Hamelin, Nikolai Demidenko, Hamish Milne, and as of late the terrific Polina Leschenko (“Forgotten Melodies” on Avanti Classic). Medtner is lucky to have them… and he is especially lucky to have Sudbin (he throws his piano-transcription of Floods of Spring in, as an encore), whose sensitive pianism responds instinctively to all the challenges and emotive states: with sweet discretion one second, audacity and bravado the next… untempted all along to milk the music for more than it can give. That’s how they must be played, to avoid romantic soup… and then what sweet rewards are in stock for us!