Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Complete Piano Sonatas: 1
Sonatina in G minor (1898) [7:29]
Sonata no.1 in F minor, op.5 (1895-1903) [35:26]
Sonata-Reminiscenza in A minor, op.38 no.1 (?1919-22) [15:27]
Paul Stewart (piano)
rec. Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur, Montreal, Canada, 20-23 December 2011. DDD
GRAND PIANO GP617 [58:22]
Nikolai Medtner's Sonata-Reminiscenza is one of eight substantial pieces published as his opp.38, 39 and 40, with the overall title of Forgotten Melodies. That would almost make a pithy hic jacet for a composer whose deeply imaginative, poignantly beautiful piano works make his historical neglect as bizarre as it is scandalous.
Canadian pianist Paul Stewart sets out to right some wrongs with this first of four volumes on Grand Piano dedicated to Medtner's fourteen Piano Sonatas. In his informative, well researched notes he points up both the diminutive nature of the Medtner discography and the fact that some recordings "are based on editions that contain misprints and other errors".
For his recital Stewart, a long-time champion of Medtner's music, plays a restored period Steinway actually performed on by the composer himself in 1929 in Montreal. Its tone is well worth hearing, especially in the fine audio on offer here, and Stewart's even more so: he gives an authoritative, expressive and thoroughly listener-friendly reading of Medtner's works, leaving a strong sense of anticipation for the remaining volumes.
Though an early work, the First Piano Sonata in F minor is a glorious, passionate work of writhing melodies and wistful harmony, quite possibly an ode to his brother's, and his own future, wife. The Sonata-Reminiscenza in A minor is Medtner's Tenth Sonata, and his most performed. Rightly so too: like much of Medtner's piano music, it calls to mind a less sombre, more emotionally 'stable' Rachmaninov - who referred to him, incidentally, as "the greatest composer of our time". Flowingly imaginative, the nostalgia of the title morphs into haunting melancholy - no coincidence that Medtner was about to leave his native Russia for good. The brief Sonatina is a bagatelle by comparison, but very agreeable in a similar kind of way. It was not published until 1981, and its two-movement structure suggests that Medtner had not quite finished with it.
This CD, like all those released by Grand Piano in its first year, features a cover painting by the Norwegian artist Gro Thorsen, which if nothing else adds to the collectibility of the series. One minor complaint about Grand Piano, however: for emphatically full-price discs, the running times are often on the short side. Another 22 welcome minutes' worth of Medtner would have fitted on here.
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Deeply imaginative, poignantly beautiful.
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