Regardless of our busy work, we took the chance to go to a shopping mall in Vicenza yesterday afternoon because there’s a CD shop doing liquidizing sale. An album is sold at 5 or 10 Euro. The average price of CD in Italy is 17 Euro. Of course we couldn’t lose this great opportunity!!
When I walked into the shop, I went immediately to the classical music section. Looking album by album, I picked up four CDs. The most “surprising” one is the Tschaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 and Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.2, performed by Alexei Sultanov. I never knew that Sultanov also has CD recordings.
The first time I saw him playing piano is at the Tschaikovsky Piano Competition in 1986. With a young age of 17 years old he was able to enter this international competition, and even arrived the semi-final. His performance of Chopin has made a great impression on me. It’s a pity that he didn’t make it to the final round…
The next time I heard of his news was about ten years later. I was in university. Though I gradually left the piano world, I went to piano recitals very often. I remember seeing on a flyer phrases like winner of “Chopin competition silver medal” and “Van Cliburn competition gold medal”. Or course I wouldn’t miss it. So I invited a friend and my brother to come along and got the tickets. Seeing the photo in the program, it reminded me the young guy in the Tschaikovsky. It’s Him!! So he did start his career as a professional pianist! I felt lucky that I didn’t miss the recital. However, the performance of that time was a bit disappointing. Though he’s got outstanding techniques but I didn’t enjoy his somehow violent timber. His Menphisto Waltz was like “fighting with ghosts”!! That’s not the Sultanov in my memory. I spent some time reading the program, and got to know that his career was forced to stop temporarily because of “health problem”. (Note) He just re-started his musical tour not long ago…
I’ve never thought of looking for his CD recordings, probably because I’ve never heard of it or seen it with my eyes. So I couldn’t believe my eyes when I found it in the shop. I listened to it this afternoon. The touch is clean and well-controlled and the music is fluent and flowing. That’s the Sultanov in my memory. The CD was published in 1990, not long after he won the prize. I thought of finding some other works of him and what he’s up to at the moment, so I searched his name on Google.
The first site that appeared on the net showed “in memory of Sultanov’s birthday, there’s a special program…” I kept reading and saw “a bright star has gone from this earthly plane…” At the beginning I probably refused to believe what I read, but as I kept going I came to understand… and my eyes were wet… He’s gone. On June 30. He’s only 35 years old…Reading pages and bits on the site and listening to the recording of his golden age, it reminded me what Bernard Shaw said to the great violinist Heifetz, “If you provoke a jealous God by playing with such superhuman perfection, you will die young…”
Note: I called my brother right after I got the news. He told me that the first time Sultanov stopped his musical career was due to the fact that he broke his hand/arm during karate practice! Pianist and karate… that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of it. The news came from another Chinese pianist who has followed the same maestro as Sultanov in Russia.