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Briefly Noted: Sudbin's Beethoven (CD of the Month)

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L. van Beethoven, Sonatas, op. 110-111 / Bagatelles, Y. Sudbin

(released on March 1, 2019)
Bis BIS-2208 | 62'53"
Yevgeny Sudbin has long been a favorite here at Ionarts, for his delightful recital discs devoted to single composers, especially Domenico Scarlatti, Scriabin, and Haydn. As far as Beethoven, the Russian-born pianist has only recorded the piano concertos so far, until this disc pairing the last two Beethoven sonatas with the six Bagatelles of op. 126. These are all pieces composed in the last half-decade of Beethoven's life, and they are all rather compact, expressive, and highly unorthodox. This sits quite nicely in the area of strength for Yevgeny Sudbin, who excels in picking out the most exquisite details through the means of an unflinching technical assault on a score.

The movements of the rather short op. 110 sonata are, in some ways, like four bagatelles (with the Adagio and Allegro portions woven together in the third movement), and Sudbin plays the piece to the hilt, bringing out the quirky sides of each one. The second movement especially, with its snatches of Unsa Kätz häd Katzln ghabt ("Our cat has had kittens") and Ich bin lüderlich, du bist lüderlich ("I'm a slob, you're a slob"), is fast and witty. The concluding fugue is a tour de force of clarity in the voicing of each appearance of the subject, on one hand an intellectual exercise and on the other, moments of levity that lighten the weight of the tragic Adagio.

Moods pass quickly across the face of the op. 111 sonata, given maximum contrast by Sudbin in this powerhouse performance. The Allegro outbursts are intense, hammered but with differentiation of voices, and the dreamy sections distant and meditative. The "Arietta" is poetic and hushed, its individualized variations again recalling a kinship with the form of the bagatelle. Sudbin avoids turning the dotted-rhythm variation into an anachronistic "boogie-woogie" (pace Jeremy Denk), as Beethoven never heard swing rhythm after all. The late Bagatelles of op. 126, far from being throw-away trifles, are late-period miniatures, experimental kernels heard in more expanded form in larger pieces of the same period, including parts of the sonatas included on this disc. Sudbin mines them for every quirk and bizarre turn of phrase.

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