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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
The sonatas and other piano music
Full track-list at end of review
Hamish Milne (piano)
Boris Berezovsky (piano II) and Geoffrey Tozer (piano opp. 38/1, 56) on CD7
rec. London, 1975-88. ADD/DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 8851 [7 CDs: 54:56 + 60:12 + 68:22 + 64:05 + 69:18 + 65:18 + 69:49] 
Experience Classicsonline

Hamish Milne was born in
Salisbury in 1939 of Scottish parents. He studied with Harold Craxton at the Royal Academy of Music and then in Italy with Guido Agosti. In Siena he attended the classes of Casals, Cortot and Segovia. He has appeared as soloist with most of the leading British orchestras and has given over two hundred broadcasts for the BBC. For Hyperion he has recorded the piano concertos of Lyapunov and the piano solos of Anatoly Alexandrov. Long before that, and starting in the mid-1970s, he embarked on a major project with CRD to record most of the Medtner piano output apart from the concertos and songs. Some collectors will still remember the double gatefold LP set which launched that series and the Russian miniatures that adorned each LP sleeve. I see from CRD’s website that if you are a died in the wool adherent of the LP you can still order that set but now the two LPs cost £21.99 – which is probably only a little less than you will pay for this set as a whole. 

Milne did not record every one of Medtner’s sonatas so Brilliant have, sensibly enough, gone to Chandos and agreed a licence for the use of Tozer’s Sonata Reminiscenza Op. 38 No. 1 and Sonata-Idylle Op. 56. Marc-André Hamelin recorded the complete sonatas for Hyperion in 1999 and Chandos followed suit the same year with a set by Geoffrey Tozer. Tozer has gone on to record at least four more discs of Medtner’s solo piano music as well as the three piano concertos. In 2007 Milne released the world’s first complete cycle of the Medtner Fairy-Tales (or Ballades or Skazki) on two very tightly packed Hyperion CDs on CDA67491/2.

The first of the Three Hymns in Praise of Toil is Before Work op. 49 no. 1. Its placidly cooling ascent to a momentary outburst is followed by a falling back effortlessly into repose. Milne is a fine advocate for the piece even if the composer's even more peaceful version puts it slightly in the shade. Medtner in old age delivers a magically poised reading on Appian APR 5546, disconcertingly suggestive of an April morning somewhere near Chanctonbury rather than the Russian forest. Milne's Sonata-Triad is restful and richly suggestive - basking in a sombre damask glow. The first of the op. 17 Three Novelles is entitled Daphnis and Chloe. It chimes in nostalgic serenity. Milne is excellent and this time the composer's dysjunct and halting version on Appian comes across as almost stumbling in what requires a virtuosic poet of a pianist. Earl Wild's version of the Second Improvisation op. 47 is somnolent by comparison with Milne's fantastic cavalcade. In the Four Skazki op. 34 Milne instantly announces his way. In the Magic Violin with its Kreisler tribute this is measured yet mercurially responsive to Medtner's flickering changes. Recorded more recently by Hyperion as part of their wonderful set of the complete Skazki the sound is more cushioned and smooth but the performance is very similar with attention again paid to the work's salon jauntiness. The timing is about the same. The Meditazione op. 39 No. 1 is more Pierrot-impressionistic than we may be accustomed to from Medtner. Certainly there's nothing of Brahms in this. I then listened to Irina Ossipova's version on Arte Nova 74321 93121 2 (which includes both sets of Forgotten Melodies opp. 38-39). In Meditazione her approach is more halting and less volatile and less responsive to the fleeting will-the-wisp aspects of the writing. On the final disc the single movement Sonata-Reminscenza, famously recorded by Emil Gilels during his Russian years, is played by Geoffrey Tozer, in a recording licensed from Chandos. Ossipova is more nuanced and touching on this occasion than Tozer. Aristocratic though he is, Ossipova makes more of the piece with its melting memories and seeming images of fond childhood and romance. 

There are good liner notes provided by Bryce Morrison and Hamish Milne.

I am sure that Brilliant must have another Medtner-Milne set on the drawing board if they have the entrée to the CRD catalogue. This will surely include the seraphically blessed Piano Quintet (Pro Arte Quartet and Milne) from CRD 3515 with the complete music for violin and piano – three sonatas opp. 21, 44, 57 and the Three Nocturnes op.16  with the Two Canzonas With Dances op.43 from CRD34934 with Manoug Parikian. I certainly hope so.

While a survey of discs and labels might sometimes lead to a preference for Milne on Hyperion (Skazki) or Hamelin or Tozer in the sonatas (Hyperion, Chandos) this wide-ranging set is an indispensable treasure trove of Medtner. At this magnetically attractive price - go for it. There is a lifetime's study, reflection and poetry in these recordings. Milne has made Medtner part of the core of his life's work and this is evident in what we hear. I regret that Milne has not recorded the piano concertos – one day? Meantime do track this down and keep fingers crossed for that second box including the complete Medtner chamber music. Is it still too much to hope that a sensitive pianist and a team of young and intelligent singers might record the complete songs?

Rob Barnett


CD 1 [54:56] (counterpart to CRD3338)
1. Primavera (Spring Tale), Forgotten Melodies Second Cycle Op. 39 No. 3 (1918-20) [3:49]
2. Meditation, Forgotten Melodies Second Cycle Op. 39 No. 1 (1918-20) [6:12]
3. Fairy Tale in E flat major Op. 26 No. 2 (1912)  [1:30]
4. Fairy Tale in F minor (Ophelia's Song) Op. 14 No. 1 (1906-07) [3:32]
5. Fairy Tale in E minor (March of the Paladin) Op. 14 No. 2 (1918-20) [3:58]
6. Fairy Tale in G major Op. 9 No. 3 (1904-06) [1:55]
7. Fairy Tale in D minor (1915) [1:56]
8. Fairy Tale in C sharp minor Op. 35 No. 4 (1916-17) [3:50]
9. Three Hymns in Praise of Toil Op. 49 (1916-17) (No. 1: Before Work; No. 2: At the Anvil; No. 3: After Work) [10:32]
10. Elegy Op. 59 No. 2 (1938) [8:56]
11. Dithyramb Op. 10 No. 2 (1898-1906) [8:40]
Hamish Milne (piano)
CD 2 [60:12] (counterpart to CRD3339)
Sonata Triad Op. 11 (1904-08)
1. No. 1 in A flat major [9:58]
2. No. 2 in D minor, Elegy [6:12]
3. No. 3 in C major [9:05]
4. Sonata in E minor Op. 25 No. 2 "The Night Wind" (1911) [34:34]
Hamish Milne (piano)
CD 3 [68:22] (counterpart to CRD3460)
1. Sonata in G minor Op. 22 (1909-10) [16:47]
Romantic Sketches for the Young, Op. 54 (1932)
2. Prelude, Pastorale [2:09]
3. Skazka, Bird's Tale [2:33]
4. Prelude, Hymn [3:36]
5. Skazka, The Beggar [3:32]
Two Skazki, Op. 8 (1905)
6. No. 1 in C minor [3:06]
7. No. 2 in C minor [6:19]
Three Novelles, Op. 17 (1908)
8. No. 1 in G major, Daphnis and Chloe [3:29]
9. No. 2 in C minor [4:24]
10. No. 3 in E major [6:24]
11. Sonata in A minor Op. 30 (1914-15) [14:38]
Hamish Milne (piano)
CD 4 [64:05] (counterpart to CRD3461)
Sonata in F minor Op. 5 (1896-1903)
1. Allegro [12:36]
2. Intermezzo: allegro [3:46]
3. Largo [8:36]
4. Allegro risoluto [8:57]
Second Improvisation (in variation form) Op. 47 (1926)
5. Theme: song of the Water-nymph [2:22]
6. Var. 1:Meditation [1:41]
7. Var. 2: Caprice [1:22]
8. Var. 3:Winged dancers [2:17]
9. Var. 4: Enchantment [1:47]
10. Var. 5: Humoresque [1:54]
11. Var. 6: On the waves [1:26]
12. Var. 7: Roar of the crowd [1:46]
13. Var. 8: In the forest [0:49]
14. Var. 9: The wood-spirit [0:37]
15. Var. 10: Elves [1:04]
16. Var. 11: Gnomes [1:04]
17. Var. 12: Invocation [2:18]
18. Var. 13: Threat [2:57]
19. Var. 14: Song of the water-nymph [1:54]
20. Var. 15: Storm [2:25]
21. Conclusion [1:47]
Hamish Milne (piano)
CD 5 [69:18] (counterpart to CRD3498)
Sonata-Ballade in F sharp major Op. 27 (1912-1914)
1. Allegretto [10:46]
2. Introduzione, Mesto [3:51]
3. Finale, allegro [10:05]
Four Skazki Op. 34 (1916-17)
4. In B minor "The Magic Violin", tempo cangiando, abbandonamente [5:47]
5. In E minor, allegro cantabile e leggiero [2:11]
6. In A minor, allegretto tenebroso [3:35]
7. In D minor, molto sostenuto e semplice [5:50]
Sonata Romantica in B flat minor Op. 53 No. 1 (1931-1932)
8. Romanza, andantino con moto ma sempre espressivo [7:43]
9. Scherzo, allegro [5:39]
10. Meditazione, andante con moto [4:15]
11. Finale, allegro non troppo [8:36]
Hamish Milne (piano)
CD 6 [65:18] (counterpart to CRD3509)
Forgotten Melodies, Second Cycle, Op. 39 (1918-20)
1. Meditazione [5:43]
2. Romanza [5:02]
3. Primavera [3:45]
4. Canzona matinata [4:22]
5. Sonata tragica [10:08]
Two Skazki Op. 48 (1926)
6. Dance Tale [7:10]
7. Elves' Tale [4:17]
8. Etude in C minor [2:22]
9. I loved thee, Op. 32 No. 4 (1914) [2:32]
10. Sonata minacciosa, Op. 53 No. 2 (1931-32) [17:35]
Hamish Milne (piano)
CD 7 [69:49] (partial counterpart to CRD3515)
Two Pieces for Two Pianos Op. 58 (1940)
1. Russian Round Dance [5:29]
2. Knight Errant [12:21]
Sonatina in G minor
3. Allegretto ma non troppo [2:50]
4. Scherzo [4:36]
5. Moment Musical in C minor, Gnomenklage,Op. 4 No. 3 (1897-1902) [2:42]
6. Prelude in E flat major Op. 4 No. 4 (1897-1902) [2:33]
Sonata-Skazka in C minor Op. 25 No. 1 (1910-11)
7. Allegro abbandonamente [5:13]
8. Andantino con moto [3:24]
9. Allegro con spirito [3:58]
10. Sonata Reminiscenza Op. 38 No. 1 [12:55]
Sonata-Idylle in G major Op. 56
11. Pastorale, allegretto cantabile [4:26]
12. Allegro moderato e cantabile [7:54]
Hamish Milne (piano) (1-9)
Boris Berezovsky (piano) II (1,2)
Geoffrey Tozer (piano) (10-12)



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