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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Nicolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Sonate-Ballade Op.27 (1913)
Sonata Minacciosa 'Sonate Orageuse' Op. 53 No. 2 (1932)
Four Skazki Op. 26 (1913?)
Sonate-Idylle Op. 56 (1937)
Malcolm Binns (piano)
rec 1976 and 1991 (Op. 56)
PEARL SHE CD 9628 [66.14]


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Binns will be pretty well known to English audiences not that he was ever taken up by the majors as a recording artist but he certainly has a place in the long-term allegiances of Pearl and Pavilion Records. He has recorded for them since the early 1970s with music by Balakirev, Liapunov, Bax and Medtner in their catalogue at various times.

He did an outstanding Bax collection for Pearl but it has never been transferred to CD possibly because the playing time is too short. Now if only he would record Winter Waters and the First Sonata or Third Sonata to go with his 1970s analogues of the Second it would do well indeed.

Back to Medtner whose aristocratic muse is well tuned to Binns' style. Indeed Binns broadcast the Third Concerto with the BBC Northern conducted by Raymond Leppard in the very early 1980s. This was a lovely performance if not quite the equal of the glittering Nikolaeyeva Melodiya LP. The Third Concerto was subtitled Ballade and elements of ballade (storytelling or fable) are mixed in the Op. 27 with sonata (structural balance). The Minacciosa is part of the Sonata-Triad, a tripartite work that also includes the most accessible of his works - the ineffably beautiful Sonata Romantica.

If rather closely recorded to capture dynamic variation, it is clear that Binns is an affectionate interpreter perhaps favouring drama over poetry.

The Sonate-Idylle was recorded in 1991 and has been used to flesh out the playing time originally well suited to LP side-lengths but if directly translated to CD would have seemed rather stingy.

Incidentally you will see Medtner referred to as a 'Russian Brahms'. If we must have these approximations then he is far more of a Russian Schumann or Grieg and his fruitful obsession with the Ballades or Märchen or Skazki is evidence of this. The use of the British 'fairytale' is to be avoided - much better to use the Baxian terms Ballad (as in the Bax violin concerto) or Legend (as in a host of Bax works). There is nothing twee about Medtner's world.

The Sonate-Idylle again marries, in its title, two elements shared by other pieces in his output. The work takes something from Haydn and Bach in its classical poise. It was premiered by the then self-exiled composer at the Aeolian Hall on 10 February 1939. It is resolute, limpid, classically-shaped and tinged with melancholy though not self-pitying.

The 1976 sessions were certainly analogue but presumably those in 1991 for the Sonate-Idylle were digital.

Amidst the Milnes (CRD), Hamelins (Hyperion) and Tozers (Chandos) do not lose sight or sound of collections like this or indeed Earl Wild's on Chesky. Binns' and Pearl's collaboration admits of contrasting intuitions and insights about this subtle and aristocratic music - noble, innocent (as in Op. 26 No 4) and poetic as in the finale to Op. 27.

Now when is someone going to get round to recording the complete songs, the complete Skazki and the Sonata-Vocalise the latter a three movement work for vocalising soprano and piano - effectively another violin sonata but with soprano voice in place of the violin.

Helpful notes from Stephen Plaistow add value to this overlooked anthology.

Rob Barnett


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