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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Goethe Lieder

From '12 Lieder von Goethe', Op. 15 (1908) [21:09]
An die Türen will ich schleichen ... (from 'Wilhelm Meister'); Selbstbetrug; Sie liebt mich! ... (from 'Erwin und Elmire'); So tanzet und springet ... (from 'Lila'); Vor Gericht (Ballade); Meeresstille; Glückliche Fahrt; Nähe des Geliebten; Der untreue Knabe (Ballade);
9 Lieder von Goethe, Op. 6 [To] E.K. & A.M. Medtner (1904) [20:26]
Wandrers Nachtlied II; Mailied; Elfenliedchen; Im Vorübergehn; Liebliches Kind! ... (from 'Claudine von Villa-Bella'); Inneres Wühlen ... (from 'Erwin und Elmire'); Sieh mich, Heil'ger, wie ich bin ... (from 'Erwin und Elmire'); Erster Verlust; Gefunden (Epithalamion)
From '6 Gedichte von Goethe', Op. 18 (1908): Das Veilchen (Ballade) [3:33]
Suite-Vocalise in F minor, Op. 41 No. 2 À Madame Leopold Fortier (1926?) [18:58]
Introduzione. Allegretto espressivo; Gesang der Nymphen. Andante con moto; Geheimnisse. Molto sostenuto e misterioso; Zug der Grazien. Allegretto sempro al rigore di tempo; Was der Dichter spricht. Tranquillo
Sonate-Vocalise in C major, Op. 41 No. 1 (1922) mit einem Motto 'Geweihter Platzí von Goethe [14:19]
Motto: 'Geweihter Platz'. Allegretto tranquillo e sereno; Sonate-Vocalise: Allegretto cantabile e con moto
Susan Gritton (soprano)
Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
Rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 1-3 May 2003. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10093 [78:46]


Medtnerís credit is probably as high as it has ever been except perhaps in those long lost Moscow days when his name vied with those of Scriabin and Rachmaninov. All were composer-celebrants of the keyboard. All were also brilliant executants. While Scriabin died young and deluded his two contemporaries lived on. Rachmaninov and Medtner left Russia but ironically found that their very dispossession breathed poignancy and a vibrantly nostalgic blade into their music. Both Rachmaninov and Medtner wrote piano concertos, piano solos and songs. Each spent time in Germany before leaving for a land remote from their upbringing and heart's anchor. Germany and German culture adhered less to Rachmaninov than to Medtner. This was despite the two years Rachmaninov spent in Dresden (1907-08) engaged in writing the Second Symphony and The Isle of the Dead. Medtner spent longer in Germany but was there much later. Medtner left Russian in 1921 and then spent three years in Germany before moving to Paris (1936-36). Medtnerís final years were spent in the mists and gloom of 1930s and 1940s England while Rachmaninov (with his own anxieties about his music having become passé) bathed in the Californian sunshine of Beverley Hills. The final chapter of neglect for Medtner was leavened from 1948. The Medtner Society, bankrolled by the Maharajah of Mysore, a passionate enthusiast of Medtnerís music became very active in recording the Master albeit in his last years. Of course there are differences between the two composers. Rachmaninov had an extrovertís brilliance and a sure dramatic touch - witness the Third Symphony and the Symphonic Dances. Medtner, on the other hand, was no populist - more a subdued colourist, a subtle poet of the piano, a stranger to excess and the circus ring. He was not an ascetic though; his works bespeak the most eloquent melodic and lyric faculty but he did not write in a way that instantly captured enthusiasts.

Rachmaninovís songs occupy the same hinterland as Medtnerís. They sit at the periphery of the repertoire - a field for connoisseur-exploration. There are only two exceptions: the Vocalise (linked to two substantial works on this disc) and perhaps the song Powder and Paint - once supremely recorded with a hoarse decayed hauteur by Olga Plevitskaya. Medtnerís songs await general discovery and the sooner we have a complete edition expounded with the same spirit and authority as Graham Johnsonís various lieder series on Hyperion the better. This very generously timed disc is certainly a distinguished and eloquent start.

All 26 tracks trace their inspiration direct to Goethe. The two vocalise works are based on a motto by Goethe: Geweiter Platz (Hallowed Ground). In fact the two movement Sonata sets the poem in a three minute prefatory song before launching into an 11 minute single movement sonata proper. Just as with the five movement Suite-Vocalise, the soprano sings sounds and not words. The composer encouraged his singers to invent vowel sounds to aid sense and articulation. Susan Gritton here effectively plays the role of the violin with minimal vibrato. She displays tasteful restraint, yearning and yielding as the wind of Medtnerís inspiration breathes and buffets. This is carolling and delicately dancing music occasionally straying into a stately village dance (tr. 23) and at other times celebrating a sort of Apollonian joyous abandon.

The four movement Suite-Vocalise has been recorded previously by the counter-tenor Brian Osawa - not a disc I have heard.

While there is room for the composerís and Margaret Ritchieís never issued 1947 HMV recording of the Sonata-Vocalise (in which Ritchie is a mite quicker than Gritton) this is a most satisfying reading. I hope that, as these works deserve, it will help in their rehabilitation back to the recital hall. The Sonata-Vocalise in particular would make a grand competition piece to display both the technical prowess of young singers and their feeling for the underlying poetry of the music. These works are, as Geoffrey Tozer indicates in his notes, the best of Medtner.

Vocalise was something of a fashion in the 1930s. In addition to the two Medtner works there are a host of others including John Fouldsí recently premiered Lyra Celtica (soon to be out on Warner Classics), Rachmaninovís Vocalise, Alfvénís splendidly OTT Fourth Symphony From the Uttermost Skerries, Blissís Rhapsody, RVWís Pastoral Symphony and Nielsenís Espansiva.

The songs occupy some 45 minutes of the discís playing time. They cover a fair expanse of territory. They range from the sober despair of An die turen (tr. 1) and the sombre Liebliches Kind (tr. 5) to the deeply romantic Nähe des Geliebten (tr. 8). Sie liebt mich (tr. 3) displays richly-stocked writing typical of the melos of the Third Piano Concerto Ballade. A triumphant grandeur of statement is radiant in Grittonís voice. A narrative sense pervades Der untreue knabe (tr. 9). It is Skazki-like in its fable-telling variety of tone and volume. So tanzet und springet (tr. 4) evinces a halting delight in melody while Meersstille (tr. 7) is like a small serenading hurricane.

The Op. 6 set includes the playful Mailied (tr. 11), the galloping extroversion of Elfenliedchen (tr. 12) and the Francesca-like whirlwinds and touchingly lovely melisma of Im Vorübergehn (tr. 13). Wandrers Nachtlied (tr. 10) speaks distilled stillness and sorrow in the simplest of accompanimental figures. Despair is charted in Inneres Wühlen while Sie mich (tr. 16) is sombre and reflective. Gefunden (tr. 18) brims over with sorrow redeemed in Handelian contentment when the poetís plucked flower is replanted in a quiet grove.

Das Veilchen (tr. 19) is another ballad from the Six Goethe Poems of Op. 18. The trembling setting includes a delectable piano part echoing the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto and with a wonderfully touched-in main tune akin to the equivalent melody in Medtnerís own Sonata Romantica.

Are Chandos planning a complete edition of the songs? I hope so for they have already done something similar for Rachmaninov. Whether or not they have this in mind Geoffrey Tozer is surely a natural candidate for a much needed intégrale of the Ballades. I am surprised that no-one has moved to do this. In addition to Mr Tozer (whose insight and knowledge of Medtner must be incomparable) other candidates who might surely tackle these monuments to romantic sensibility include Marc-André Hamelin, Hamish Milne and Vardo Rumessen.

The songs are valuable and there are some real gems here. The vocalise works stand out in this and indeed any other company. They are works of the most eloquent melodic and lyric faculty superbly recorded by Chandos and magnificently presented and lived by Gritton and Tozer.

Rob Barnett



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