> Complete Solo Recordings of Nicolai Medtner Volume 2 [JW]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Complete Solo Recordings of Nicolai Medtner Volume 2

Novelle Op 17/1
Märchen Opp 14/2, 20/1, 20/2, 26/2, 26/3, 34/2, 51/2, 51/3
Danza Festiva op 38/3
Arabesque Op 7/3
Improvisation Op 31/1
Violin Sonata No 1 Op 21
Nicolai Medtner, piano
Cecilia Hansen, violin
Recorded Abbey Road, London 1936-1947
APR 5547 [70’40]


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The second volume of the solo piano recordings of Medtner advances from the unearthed riches of Volume One’s unpublished Columbias to the HMV album of 1936 with the addition of the 1946 Improvisation and one dramatic rarity of its own – the First Violin Sonata, previously unreleased on 78. The qualities I noted as being characteristic of Medtner’s playing in 1930/31 are equally present here. He remade many, though not all, of the early discs and we can hear how little his interpretations differed, If there are minor changes he is, not unsurprisingly, marginally slower in 1936, but the differences are really minimal, matters of seconds. Bryan Crimp notes that Medtner’s reappearance in the studios after the War was only possible because of the intervention of Medtner’s friend and colleague, Benno Moiseiwitsch, and slightly later the Maharajah of Mysore whose sponsorship of the Society Albums is well known.

The 1936 HMVs reveal his beautifully balanced, scaled and equalized playing. He brings out the middle voices in the Germanic Novelle – his conveyance of mood and cogent linkage of the slow and faster sections one of great skill. We can understand in his playing of this piece something of Medtner’s belief in the dictum that whilst there are many ways of playing a piece "but always one that is best." Here his feeling for dramatic intensity is fused with a notable sense of narrative within a short space of time. The Op 20/2 Märchen is heavy-footed, with its sinuous bass line and plenty of eruptive drama. Medtner manages to infuse these miniatures with a sense of incident far beyond their seemingly circumscribed form and his pianism is adept at balancing both architectural and tonal needs. In his hands the Märchen in particular are constantly fluid and in motion, endlessly alive. Op 51/2 for instance is animated by his pearl bejewelled treble which glitters in a three and a half minute tone poem of lyrical simplicity. In contrast Medtner’s sinew, and his Germanic influences as well as his still robust technique are all on show in the Danza Festiva – triumphant, celebratory, full of cascading verve. He conjures up the sprite world in the Wood Goblin Märchen, Op 34/3 and the tragic depth of the Arabesque with equal aplomb. His balanced chords and articulation in the Danza jubilosa, allied to his controlled and controlling animation, are infectious. That consistency, so famously associated with him, is perhaps best exemplified by the Op 51/3 Märchen, which differs not at all from the versions included in Volume 1. Medtner has a formidable variety of qualities, from the lilting to the vigorous, the exultant to the Schumannesquely crepuscular, the introspective to the narratively complex.

The exciting news about the First Violin Sonata is that this is its first commercial appearance. This had previously received limited circulation as it was issued as part of the collector Thomas L Clear’s self-produced, semi-private series of LPs and is of itself something of a rarity. Copies of the 78s were supplied to APR by Donald Manildi and Barrie Martyn and Bryan Crimp has utilised some skilful noise reduction to limit the surface noise but managed also to retain frequency fidelity and not to suppress treble. Medtner’s sonata partner is fellow Russian, Cecilia Hansen, a pupil of Leopold Auer born in 1897 and who lived to a venerable old age, dying in London at ninety-two. She made very few recordings – no more than ten 78 sides for Victor in the 1920s and the Medtner is both her most extended – indeed her only extended - recording and also the highlight of her discography. She was fifty when she and Medtner recorded the Sonata, her initial success long since behind her, but her technique is robust and intact and her musical intelligence obvious. With its evocative lyricism and delicious textual profile this is an ingenuous and beautiful work. Hansen is well equalized through the scale, with a very quick and gorgeous, though prominent, slide at 2’25 in the first movement and her lyric intensity in the Danza is delightful. Medtner’s off-beat accents are properly propulsive; her portamentos toward the end are pervasive but precise, though she can sometimes sound rather starved in the E string. Medtner is admirably nimble and their synchronicity is excellent, Of the known survivals of this set all are take one. Hansen does have a small tone, feminine, but inclined rather more than, say, her fellow Auer pupil Efrem Zimbalist to convey its lyrical implications. And she is well attuned to the Sonata’s concluding Ditirambo. It’s difficult to balance the two instruments here but Medtner is chordally solicitous, though maybe very slightly overbalancing Hansen’s accompanying figuration later on. But they have enviable rhythmic rapport, reaching the conclusion of the sonata with a triumphant understanding of its play of the active and the passive.

As with the first volume of this series the biographical and recording essays are by Barrie Martyn and are generic to the series and yield much of interest. Bryan Crimp’s note outlines matters discographic. I think the presence of the Violin Sonata makes this pretty much a mandatory purchase but the 1936 set, newly transferred and attractively, marks out this series as one of increasing importance.

Jonathan Woolf

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