Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin’s concert Saturday night at the Folly Theater, presented by the Harriman-Jewell Series, was a matter of life and death and heaven and hell.
The Russian-born pianist wrote his own notes for the concert program, which began with Domenico Scarlatti sonatas in G minor; G major, K. 455; F minor, K. 466; and B minor, K. 27. The G minor, Sudbin wrote, was Scarlatti’s attempt to address a higher power. The power Sudbin evinced indicated an intuition of where the keyboard bed is, therefore to bring forth bright upper-range pianissimo trills with exactitude or a rich tone in the lower register from the Folly’s Steinway, all sounding as one voice.
Sudbin’s Scarlatti was stylistically correct — for instance, trills and tremolos were executed according to the practice of the time — yet he cannot help but bring a contemporary sensibility to his playing.
The first half of the recital also included preludes by Dmitri Shostakovich and Sergei Rachmaninov. Here Sudbin displayed the distance traveled in an instant between pianissimo and fortissimo, between precise, rapid passages and slow chordal progressions. For all his pyrotechnics, Sudbin does bring the music to the fore.
Those pyrotechnics were certainly on display in the second half of the concert, especially as it began with Alexander Scriabin’s Sonata No. 5, Op. 53, and Sonata No. 9 in F major, Op. 68, “Black Mass.”
If the first half began with the delicacy of light and an overall diatonic impression, the Scriabin upended those tonalities with a wash of dark madness. Individual chords did not connect by way of traditional resolutions; each chord could have had its own passing key center if they were to have resolved with Scriabin’s inner logic.
The “Black Mass” was particularly upsetting, intentionally so, as it called forth decadent hellish sensualities. Sudbin’s precise use of the sustain pedal brought out the composer’s or performer’s intent of blurring chords or brash clarity. Sudbin’s decrescendo passages were sudden yet precisely felt.
All of this speaks to Sudbin’s impeccable technique in any genre and his ability to portray moods from Scarlatti’s light to Scriabin’s darkness. He is also a daring arranger; he deserves credit for his interpretations of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Lacrimosa” and Frederic Chopin’s Waltz in D-flat major, Op. 64, No. 1. They are signs of a brilliant imagination.
Yet for all his intuitive musicianship, Sudbin is not yet a finished product. But if Saturday’s concert was an indication of things to come, he will bring much when he completely arrives.