In 2013, while I was chatting with Yevgeny Sudbin, who was in New Zealand to play Beethoven with the NZSO, the pianist more than once adroitly subverted our conversation to his passion for the Russian composer Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951).

He confessed his main "pianistic pleasure" was discovering special colours in a composer's music and this had drawn him to Medtner as an inspiration for his "painting in sound". Sudbin pursues these philosophies in an entertaining booklet essay for his new CD of Medtner and Rachmaninov.

He even risks the fulsome, suggesting that "when the last sign of life, the last spark in the universe has been extinguished, Medtner's music will still somehow continue to reverberate through the emptiness of space".

Medtner and Rachmaninov were near-contemporaries and friends, although Medtner's was always a modest reputation alongside that of the high-profile composer of the Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Sudbin's affection for his music is palpable, from an opening Prologue that might well sound like minor Rachmaninov to unwary ears; later, three artfully characterised fairy tales reveal a more individual voice.


Medtner's Sonatas have been turning up on local recital programmes lately and Sudbin perfectly reconciles the narrative and the structural in his Sonata-Reminiscenza and Sonata Tragica, written in the troubled years just after the Russian Revolution.

Choosing just six from the 23 Preludes of Rachmaninov's Opus 23 and 32 must have been a task and Sudbin's delightful commentary makes mention of Medtner, John Williams' Darth Vader theme and the need for a rousing finale.

Predictably, the explanation for the pianist's choice lies in the colours that burst from their pages and connoisseurs of the keyboard will appreciate the subtly differentiated sheen occasioned by G major and G sharp minor pieces.

The popular G minor Prelude of Opus 23 is not the quasi-militaristic barnstormer some make of it, but quirky and skittish, and a lovely reminder of this witty, elegant man who, three years ago, dazzled us at encore time in the Auckland Town Hall with his own virtuoso transcription of Chopin's Minute Waltz.

Yevgeny Sudbin plays Medtner & Rachmaninov
BIS, through Ode Records
Verdict: Russian pianist presents the music of two countrymen in perfect harmony