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Medtner: Complete Piano Sonatas Vol 1 / Paul Stewart

Medtner / Stewart
Release Date: 09/25/2012 
Label:  Grand Piano   Catalog #: 617   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Nikolai Medtner
Performer:  Paul Stewart
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 0 Hours 58 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MEDTNER Sonatina in g. Piano Sonatas: No. 1 in f, Op. 5. Sonata-Reminiscenza in a, Op. 38/1 Paul Stewart (pn) GRAND PIANO 617 (58:22)

Nikolai Medtner (1880–1951) is not a composer with whose music I’m overly familiar, but what I have heard of it, I’ve found much to my liking. The Russian Medtner, just seven years younger than Read more Rachmaninoff, was destined, or so it seemed, to follow the same trajectory as his slightly older contemporary. But Fate and/or Medtner’s self-determined course eventuated in a different outcome.

A greater influence on Medtner than Rachmaninoff may have been the enigmatic Alexander Scriabin. Medtner’s harmonic language, especially in his later works, becomes increasingly less rooted in functional tonality, and, as in the works of Scriabin, Medtner’s piano pieces become more experimental and metaphysical in tone.

Rachmaninoff’s works are certainly no less daunting in the technical demands they make on the player, and his musical vocabulary is by no means simple, but Rachmaninoff always writes with an ear to public consumption, and his style is unapologetically romantic and populist in tone.

Listening to Medtner—again, in his later pieces—one has the feeling that he’s writing, first, for himself, and that pleasing an audience is secondary. One hears this in the 10th of Medtner’s 14 sonatas, the one titled Sonata-Reminiscenza that’s heard on the present disc. It’s a one-movement affair, not unlike some of Scriabin’s sonatas, and while it doesn’t venture as far into Scriabin’s chromatic miasma of near atonality, it treats its A-Minor key very freely. The mood is one of melancholy that seems to evoke reminiscences of Chopin and Brahms. The sonata’s title, however, refers to melodies Medtner jotted down over the years and then forgot; and indeed, the Sonata-Reminiscenza , op. 38/1, is but the first in three sets of pieces collected under the title, Forgotten Melodies.

The Sonata No. 1 in F Minor is a more conventional work. In four movements, it’s a big, ambitious, bravura display piece, which, in style, seems to draw inspiration as much from Beethoven and Schumann as it does from Rachmaninoff, but in its mechanics—i.e., its form and working out of its thematic materials—Medtner’s teacher, Sergei Taneyev, is much in evidence. The piece is, after all, Medtner’s first major work following his graduation from the Moscow Conservatory in 1900.

The Sonatina in G Minor is a student work. The edition is missing performance markings and contains obvious mistakes, according to Paul Stewart’s self-authored program note. But many of the features that would come to characterize Medtner’s mature compositions, such as a penchant for syncopation, are already on display.

A previous encounter with Paul Stewart partnering with violinist Jonathan Crow in violin sonatas by Elgar, Strauss, and Ravel ( Fanfare 32:3), left me saying that the disc was “a desideratum of indescribably beautiful music matched by indescribably beautiful playing. You can’t listen to it and not fall in love with it.” But even that didn’t completely prepare me for the brilliance of Stewart’s playing. This is pianism at its pinnacle. Stewart’s dynamic range is amazing, as he teases from his instrument the most delicately whispered pianissimos one moment and achieves the most thunderous fortissimos the next. But through all the virtuosic wizardry that leaves one agape, there emerges an artist of poetic sensitivity who makes every measure of Medtner’s music sing.

Two last points of information: (1) This album, recorded in December 2011 is announced as Volume 1 of Medtner’s complete piano sonatas; and (2) for this recording, Stewart plays a restored Steinway from around the turn of the 20th century, an instrument Medtner himself performed on in Montréal in 1929.

This is not just enthusiastically recommended, but with great urgency.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Sonatina for Piano in G minor by Nikolai Medtner
Performer:  Paul Stewart (Piano)
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1989; Moscow, Russia 
Venue:  Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Mont 
Length: 7 Minutes 28 Secs. 
Sonata for Piano in F minor, Op. 5 by Nikolai Medtner
Performer:  Paul Stewart (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1896-1903; Russia 
Venue:  Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Mont 
Length: 34 Minutes 47 Secs. 
Forgotten Melodies (8) for Piano, Op. 38: no 1, Sonata Reminiscenza by Nikolai Medtner
Performer:  Paul Stewart (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1918-1920; USSR 
Venue:  Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, Mont 
Length: 15 Minutes 22 Secs. 

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