Mykola Suk



About Latest CD: Mykola Suk plays Franz Liszt Piano Favorites
Music and Arts

 Mykola Suk, Ukrainian-born and now American-resident, First Prize winner at the 1971 Liszt-Bartók competition, plays Liszt in the grand manner. Furthermore he thinks orchestrally or, rather, floods his playing with such remarkable sonorities that you might be forgiven for thinking him a one-man orchestra. This is one of the most compelling and amazing performances of the Sonata imaginable. I can imagine quite a few more rectitudinous souls recoiling from the avalanche of extreme dynamics and pellucid withdrawals of tone – but equally I can imagine others stunned by the heady whiff of furnace and poetry summoned up by Suk. It’s the kind of performance that begets superlatives, one way or another. 

His digital strength and his stealthy approach to architecture are both palpable. His theatrical flair is also unbounded though it’s never, in that dread Lisztian word, vulgar. No, his is a performance at once overwhelming and characterful. It’s not especially fast. The crux of the matter comes in the stitching together – or stretching apart – of the music’s superstructure. So for Suk, filigree is as important as the sense of powerful projection. The dynamism of the playing, replete with cutting off of phrases, overwhelming chordal flourishes, and sudden vertiginous drops to treble-based refinement, is part of an over-arching schema, and not the result of indulgence. Some narrative phrases are certainly idiosyncratic, but the sense of originality, drama, and fervour is all-enveloping. Maybe in certain elements one can detect a degree of Horowitz’s trenchancy and magnetism in this work, but the conception here is all Suk’s own. Possibly too it’s telling, as recounted in the booklet notes, that Suk hadn’t played the work in public for several years. The tension is incredible, magisterial, overwhelming, the few finger-slips immaterial. 

Suk has played the Dante Sonata for many years. In fact he’s already recorded it on TNC Recordings 1401. In this more recent recital, from July 2005, he once again displays his exceptional control of phraseology. He doesn’t trade speed for excitement, instead he builds and relaxes the tension – exactly as he did in the B minor Sonata – and achieves similarly remarkable results. The three Hungarian Rhapsodies play to his sense of colour, texture, refined introspection and vivid theatricality. They were recorded between 2004 and 2007. 

Suk is a Lisztian chevalier of the first order, and this disc is a memorable example of his affiliation with the music, and expounding of it. Tremendous! 

   - Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International



Classical CD Reviews

LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; Apres une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 in F-sharp Minor – Mykola Suk, piano – Music & Arts

Suk has his own ideas about the B Minor Sonata, which he plays for its extreme ecstatic convulsions in dark and light.


Published on March 19, 2010

LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; Apres une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 in F-sharp Minor – Mykola Suk, piano – Music & Arts CD-1234, 79:15 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

Mykola Suk (b. 1945) is a Ukrainian pianist who won First Prize in the 1971 Liszt-Bartok Competition in Budapest. His principal teacher was Lev Vlasenko, to whom Suk dedicates this all-Liszt recital, culled from various live appearances at Mannes College 2004-2008. Suk has his own ideas about the B Minor Sonata (22 July 2008), which he plays for its extreme ecstatic convulsions in dark and light. A broad thoughtful approach marks Suk’s rendition, providing a majestic canvas whose musical periods resemble as much a Bruckner Symphony as much as they recycle Schubert’s one-movement formula that naturally subdivides into affective variants of an original impulse. At several moments of peroration, the bass harmonies from Suk belie the upward D Major sweep of the music and suggest that the Abyss yawns before us.  For its moments of relative repose, Liszt takes us into B Major; and there, Suk indulges his intimate thoughts on mortality and heroism. But Suk enters Liszt’s chthonian world with the same headlong conviction as he does the lyrical flights of fancy, as they provide mirrors of each other.  The fugato episode maintains a sparkle and fleet acuity besides its fearless plummets into the Styx. The fulminating rush of volcanic ash that leaps out at us subsequent to this contrapunctus quite inspires holy terror. The final statement of the rising theme, grandioso, accepts life’s terrors and triumphs equally, Nietzsche’s amor fati. Suk’s double octaves overwhelm us, nothing short of a spectacular burst of orchestral sound.

The Dante Sonata (19 June 2005) may permit a more “programmatic” reading than the B Minor Sonata, insofar as the lyric tragedy of Francesca da Rimini and Paolo suffuses the score with heartbreak and tumultuous nostalgia. Suk at first understates the monstrously aggressive chromatics–centered around D Minor–that rage through Inferno, that place of Eternal Pain whose fires give forth no light. The music’s tender intertwining of chordal descent and limpid arpeggios reminds us that it was the legend of Guinevere and Lancelot that “served as a pander” for Paolo and Francesca Malatesta’s illicit love. “We read. . .but soon we read no further.” The stretti become inflamed, ardent, undeniable in their erotic urgency. Renewed, the pitiless winds of Inferno’s second bolgia resume their fury, even as the chordal progressions echo the “Abandon All Hope” motif. Dante, himself committed to passionate love, must swoon in sympathy to the lovers’ eternal trial; and in so finding communion, the sufferers and their living witness undergo an apotheosis into Liszt’s favored F-sharp Major, his key for beatitude.  A glorious heartfelt performance, Suk’s sinewy version will fascinate and compel many repeated auditions of this grand vision.

The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 (22 July 2007), with its application of gypsy and Byzantine scales, along with cimbalom effects, serves as an epic vehicle for Suk’s muscular talents. His alla musette approach charms by dint of its pearly play, its shuddering speed and delicacy. No less fluid is Suk’s capacity for legato and bel canto in Liszt, allowing his keyboard to flirt, to play the coquette in a salon melodrama.  When the music declaims or rings with ecstatic fanfares, Suk’s resonant sonority easily evokes trumpets and national pipes. The admixture of alchemical, metrically jarring colors in the latter pages and demonic coda prove irresistible. Ask the Mannes crowd what they thought.

The A Minor Rhapsody No. 13 (19 July 2005) used to command the attention of wizard Mischa Levitzky, among others. Its melancholy evocation of the Magyar plains–lassan–allows for wisps of soaring reminiscence, then the consolation of a village dance tune. The trill itself becomes organic and explosive, alternating with the strummed plaint of the opening tune. Suk’s luftpausen attach an old-world allure to the erotic mysteries of this sultry piece whose friska section anticipates Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen. The degree of control Suk exerts over the plastic superheated runs and staccati would astonish the Devil. Potent!

Finally, Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 (18 July 2004), a particular favorite of Alexandre Brailowsky. Its askew lyricism warrants our attention for its ballade-like declamations interspersed with virile cadenzas. Suk’s rolled arpeggios assume the proportions of huge waves from a mercurial sea. The dance element exhibits much that Chopin flaunted in his bravura pieces, fleet, metrically intricate, and eminently impulsive. Suddenly, we find ourselves in the throes of the same tune Brahms utilized for his own Hungarian Dance, only more manic, outrageously self assured.

–Gary Lemco


LISZT: Piano Sonata in B Minor; Apres une Lecture de Dante: Fantasia quasi Sonata; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 13 in A Minor; Hungarian Rhapsody No. 8 in F-sharp Minor – Mykola Suk, piano – Music & Arts CD-1234, 79:15 [Distr. by Albany] ****:

"All these works were recorded live, so there is much applause to welcome Suk's pyrotechnics. Whether Liszt himself could have matched him when he visited London in 1886, within four months of his death, I rather doubt."

"Mykola Suk plays throughout with a mastery and range of expression that makes   exciting listening."

     -Robert Anderson,
 London UK, September 22, 2010


Other CD's:

“The recital opens with the Liszt Sonata that represents big piano-playing in its most positive, emotionally generous manifestation...Every so often an unusual voicing, phrase grouping or accent spices up the narrative flow, yet never for the sake of effect or novelty alone.”

    -Jed Distler, Gramophone, September 2007

“Suk is a powerhouse of a pianist who sets his own individual stamp on the Liszt Sonata. Although the lyrical elements are emphasized, there is little slighting of the muscular display sections...the more poetic passages are integrated into the structure.” 

    -Becker, American Record Guide, March/April 2007

Reviews of Recent Performances:

And a distinguished guest, the Ukranian-American pianist Mykola Suk, brought
further thespian expertise to the “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12’’: big splashes of color,
no small amount of sparkle, and a sense of timing to do any showman proud.

… the finale was a magnificent, macabre marvel: “Totentanz,’’ Liszt’s over-the-top
dance-of-death theme and variations. Suk returned as piano soloist, scrupulously
exploiting a formidable palette of touch and mood…..

            -Matthew Guerrieri, The Boston Globe, February 1, 2011


“If the angels ultimately won the evening, that was due in large part to pianist Mykola Suk, whose reading of the great B Minor Piano Sonata sidestepped granitic force and rhetorical showboating in favor of an introspection that hinted at the spiritual. Suk's solo playing in the irredeemably kitschy concerto "Totentanz" was also remarkably nuanced, its many iterations of the "Dies Irae" theme directed inward, rather than toward the balcony”. 

           -Joan Reinthaler, The Washington Post, February 2010

In my experience, Suk's readings of the B minor Sonata and Dante Sonata surpass in impact the Liszt performance of any other living pianist. His performance of Totentanz, at the DC festival, transcended kitsch to a degree I would not have thought possible. (You can hear his Liszt Sonata on the Post-Classical Ensemble

           -Joseph Horowitz, Liszt and Improvisation, February 2010

 “These were thrilling interpretations, and one had the impression that he was only warming up.”

    -Miriam Halfmann, General-Anzeiger (Germany), February 2006

“Whether the tempestuous Allegro or the leisurely Adagio, the exuberant audience was entranced with the pianist’s superb artistry, exquisite style and perfect artistic performance.”

    -XiaMen Daily News (China), May 2007

“And then the performance of two Hungarian Rhapsodies:  What elegance!  What ease!  What freedom!”

    -Bonner Rundschau (Germany), February 2006

“In the Ukraine, Mr. Suk was for many years a symbol of piano artistry...distinguished musicians still wonder at his ability to carefully and attentively approach many different styles and genres of music.”

    -Julia Bentya, Kommersant (Ukraine), June 2007 

“Suk is an excellent Liszt player...He knows how to grab hold of this music and make it personal and flashy and dramatically oratorical, and, on a more technical level, cause the gigantic chords to ring impressively – you heard every note, not mush.”

    -Timothy Mangan, The Orange County Register, October 2006