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
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
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
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
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.