> Medtner Piano Concerto [TH]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)

Piano Concerto No.1 in C minor Op.33 (1918)
Piano Quintet in C major Op. Posth. (1949)
Dmitri Alexeev (piano)
New Budapest Quartet
BBC Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Lazarev
Recorded on 18 March (Quintet), 23 March (Concerto) 1994
HYPERION CDA 66744 [58.59]



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As one writer said recently, Medtner’s time has certainly come. This excellent follow-up to Hyperion’s award-winning disc of Concertos 2 and 3 is just as stimulating, musically and artistically. Nikolai Demidenko plays with stunning virtuosity on the earlier disc, and here his friend and fellow countryman Dmitri Alexeev dispatches both these contrasting works with the same combination of Russian panache and whirlwind brilliance. To be fair, it is the sort of playing that Medtner’s music needs (and that he himself often provided) to really make it work. In lesser hands, one will usually be left with the feeling that so much of this is watered-down Rachmaninov (to paraphrase the old chestnut). But given the advocacy of truly first-rate artists, there is much to enjoy.

As so often with Hyperion’s thought-provoking booklets, the artist (in this case Alexeev) has provided the words, and in the process given us an insight into the creative process. He doesn’t mince words, boldly stating that Medtner’s First Concerto is "probably his most outstanding work". His performance certainly shows he can put his money where his mouth is, and the sumptuous opening theme is delivered with a real sweep and passion. Yes, one is put in mind of Rachmaninov at times (the two were lifelong friends and admirers, who each dedicated a concerto to the other), but it is usually limited to the odd thematic allusion, some of the piano cadenzas, and the occasional climactic point. Otherwise, one has to admire Medtner’s attempt at originality in such a well-worn form. The piece is cast in a grand, single structure and tied together by sonata form where, as Alexeev points out "the extended development of each section compensates for the lack of traditional division into movements". He certainly makes the most of markings such as Abbandonamente ma non troppo, where a haunting, improvisatory quality is achieved.

Introspection and daring are also qualities to be found in the Piano Quintet, his last piece and the work Medtner regarded as the synthesis of his life’s work. Instructions such as poco tranquillo (sereno) and Quasi Hymn take us far away from the turbulence of the First Concerto (written in the shadow of the Great War). The piece has an inwardness and other-worldly quality that is strangely uplifting, and the marvellous finale, with its tremolo glissandi, is ethereal and uplifting.

Recordings are well balanced and wide ranging, with detail crisp and clear. Lazarev and the BBC Symphony are sympathetic partners in the Concerto, and in the Quintet the New Budapest Quartet are as fully committed as Alexeev to Medtner’s cause. Recommended, particularly to those with an interest in the ‘other’ 20th Century.

Tony Haywood


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