The quality and integrity of Hyperion music projects is always evident in
the end product. The first complete cycle of the Medtner piano sonatas (14
of them plus two sets of Forgotten Melodies and Zwei
Märchen) is an eminent example. The imaginative enterprise obvious
from being the first such cycle is typical of the firm. Artistic values are
of the very highest. Marc-André Hamelin is a player of phenomenal
technical resource but couples this with a clear sympathy with the music
releasing its occasionally elusive magic with imagination and power. The
design and choice of cover illustration (a moonlit Russian river scene) is
perfect. The timings are generous and candidly stated (totals, individual
discs and individual sonatas/collections) on the back of the 4 disc jewel
case. The notes are by Barrie Martyn, author of the Scolar (now Ashgate)
Press (1995) book on the composer. Those notes are sympathetic, devoid of
arid and opaque musical analysis which sadly disfigures so many sets of notes
and readable. If I have a minor complaint it is that the dates of the sonatas
could have been better presented at the head of each section of the notes
and in brackets in the track listings. Medtner's birth and death dates are
also missing from the collection.
With the exception of the sonatas Opp 5, 22 and 30 Medtner's sonatas have
titles or combine the word 'sonata' with other descriptive words like Idyll,
Ballada or Night Wind.
Medtner is a romantic melodist of the greatest distinction. He was a fine
pianist and recorded many of his own pieces although he did this in old age.
He was a Russian who left Russia to escape Bolshevism in 1921 (all the pieces
here apart from the Romantica, Minacciosa and Idylle
sonatas belong to the Russian years). Finally he settled in England in
1935 dying their with the star of his music in almost abject eclipse in 1950.
The recordings sponsored by the Maharajah of Mysore during his last decade
had the ill fate to be produced during the last years of the 78 and so
disappeared into the sand very quickly.
The romantic spirit of exile we know from German lieder and Rachmaninov meet
in Medtner's music. This is mixed with an admirable nobility and a faithful
immersion in melody rather than any more modernistic trends. Medtner seems
to have been uninfluenced by atonalism, the aleatory or twelve tone music.
Nobility and melody meet a spirit of picturesque fantasy which is best summed
up in his various Ballades (also known as Contes or Skazki) indeed the Opp
27(1) and 27 works combine these titles with the word 'sonata'.
My introduction to Medtner's music came with hearing Bernard Roberts (remember
him from the Nimbus cycle of Beethoven pianos sonatas?) BBC broadcast
of one of the sonatas (I think it was the Op. 25 No. 2 work). I was struck
by this leonine aristocratic and hyper-romantic music. With my interest caught
I bought the Dobson (1965?) memorial symposium of writings about Medtner.
Amongst the authors was one Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (another great musical
mystery only gradually being revealed).
During the 1970s I continued to
explore when recordings and broadcasts permitted.
There were HMV-Melodiya LPs of the first two
piano concertos. Malcolm Binns gave an extremely
fine performance of the third concerto with
the BBC Northern conducted by Raymond Leppard.
Prior to that I knew the work from Michael
Ponti's Vox-Candide LP which I believe has
since been reissued on CD. A friend in Glasgow
who had a large collection of Medtner's HMV
CDs copied these for me onto tape. These included
many short piano pieces, some songs (some
sung by Schwarzkopf) and the lovely Vocalise-Sonata
for wordless soprano and piano. Some of these
were reissued in the 1990s in an HMV composer
in person CD. Ludmilla Andrew gave a BBC studio
recital of some of the songs and either Parikian
or Gruenberg (both much used by the BBC) have
given broadcasts of cycles of the three violin
Hamish Milne recorded a cycle of 4 discs (with the first 2 LP set issued
in the early 70s) now on CD for CRD. In the 1990s three cycles of concertos
emerged. Demidenko's (Hyperion), Geoffrey Douglas Madge's (Danacord) and
Geoffrey Tozer's (Chandos). The composer's Maharajah of Mysore recordings
of piano concertos 2 and 3 are coupled on a Testament CD although the his
recording of the first concerto does not seem to have made it to CD as yet.
Although I have read some slightly dismissive reviews of the Madge CDs I
have not heard the recordings yet so would off commenting except to say that
Madge is not a pianist I would lightly write off. Of the recordings I know
the Demidenko version of the concertos (coupled with the extremely approachable
piano quintet are the preferred choice. Hyperion have also recorded Demidenko
in at least one Medtner solo recital and Chandos have 4 such discs from Tozer
in addition to his concertos. All this activity on disc with quite an explosion
of recordings during the 1990s has not been matched by performances in the
This music is sometimes projected as being only for the aesthete specialist
or piano fanatic. I noticed a Gramophone review (Oct 1998) which seemed to
suggest that the works could really only be fully appreciated with the score
at hand. I hope that has not put people off this set. The music is accessible
to all music lovers. Medtner is NOT Rachmaninov but many of that more famous
composer's values are to the fore. The melodies can be whistled. The music
is memorable and moving (try the last movement of the Sonaten-Triade Op.
11 if you doubt this) and has a stormily explosive power and brooding atmosphere
which is mesmeric and compelling.
Comparison with other cycles is not all that helpful. The four discs are
in a single collection. They cannot be bought separately so they do not compete
in any useful sense with Milne or Tozer (and neither of those pianists have
recorded all the sonatas). I remain to be convinced by Tozer however I have
no doubts about the Milne. Emil Gilels' isolated recording of the
Reminiscenza is much fêted but oddly enough I have never heard
it so hold back from commenting.
Now Hyperion ... about the songs. I cannot imagine any company being able
to do a complete cycle of the songs any better than you. There is no indication
that such a production is even planned but looking ahead it is a 'natural'
for this company who already have a track record which is a beacon for other
I make the strongest recommendation for this Medtner-Hamelin-Hyperion cycle.
A 'Hall of Fame' acquisition for all who appreciate grand manner romanticism
in music and pianism of dedicated power and piercingly imaginative scope.
CD 1 [65:36]
Sonata in F minor Op. 5 [31:30]
Zwei Märchen Op. 8 [9:02]
Sonaten-Triade Op. 11 [24:47]
CD 2 [61:04]
Sonata in G minor Op. 22 [15:47]
Sonata-Skazka in C minor Op. 25/1 [11:40]
Sonata in E minor :Night Wind: Op.
CD 3 [74:31]
Sonata-Ballada in F sharp Op. 27 [22:44]
Sonata in A minor Op. 30 [12:09]
Vergessene Weisen (Forgotten Melodies)
Op. 38 [39:19]
(No 1 Sonata-Reminiscenza: Allegretto tranquillo
[16:04]; No 2 Danza graziosa: Con moto leggiero
[2:57]; No 3 Danza festiva: Presto [4:47];
No 4 Canzona fluviala: Allegretto con moto
[2:40]; No 5 Danza rustica: Allegro commodo
[2:01]; No 6 Canzona serenata: Moderato [4:l7];
No 7 Danza silvestra [3:40]; No 8 Alla Reminiscenza:
Quasi coda [2:53])
CD 4 [77:43]
Vergessene Weisen (Forgotten Melodies)
Op. 39 [26:08]
(No 1 Meditazione: Introduzione, quasi Cadenza
- Meno mosso - Meditamente [4:44]; No 2 Romanza:
Meditamente [4:19]; No 3 Primavera: Vivace
[3:31]; No 4 Canzona matinata: Allegretto
cantando, ma sempre con moto [4:34]; No 5
Sonata tragica: Allegro risoluto [9:00])
Sonata in B flat minor :Sonata Romantica:
Op. 53/1 [23:40]
Sonata in F minor :Sonata Minacciosa:
Op. 53/2 [16:13]
Sonate-Idylle in G major Op. 56 [11:18]