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Nikolai Karlovich MEDTNER (1880-1951)
CD 1
Piano Concerto No.1 in C minor op.33 (1914-1918) [36:51] ¹
Stimmungsbilder Op.1 Nos 2, 3 and 4 [8:05]
Two Fairy Tales Op.14 – No.1 Ophelia’s Song [4:11]
Two Fairy Tales Op.20 – No.1 Allegro con espressione [4:15]
Four Fairy Tales Op.26 – No.3 Narrante a piacare in A minor [2:52]
CD 2
Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor Op.50 (1927) [43:06] ²
Three Fairy Tales Op.42 – No.1 Russian Fairy Tale in F minor [6:26]
Three Morceaux Op.31 – No 2 March funebre [3:08]
CD 3
Two Canzonas with Dances for violin and piano Op.43 [17:35]
Piano Quintet in C major Op. posth. [24:20]
CD 4
Violin Sonata No.1 in B minor Op.21 [21:43]
Violin Sonata No.2 in G major Op.44 [29:17]
CD 5
Violin Sonata No.3 in E minor Op.57 [46:31]
Nocturne for violin and piano in C minor Op.16 No.3 [5:10]
CD 6
Forgotten Melodies Op.38 – Nos 1,2 and 4 [22;20]
Sonata-Triad Op.11 – No.2 Sonata-Elegy in D minor [7:42]
Sonata-Fairy Tale in C minor Op.25 No.1 [6:05]
Eduard NÁPRAVNIK (1839-1916)
Night Intermezzo from Dubrovsky Act IV [5:45]
Polonaise from Dubrovsky [4:42]
Melancholy Op.48 No.3 [6:54]
Tatiana Nikolayeva (piano) ¹
Abram Chatskes (piano) ²
Alexander Labko (violin): Evgeny Svetlanov (piano)
Borodin Quartet and Evgeny Svetlanov (piano)
USSR Symphony Orchestra/Evgeny Svetlanov
SVET 42-47/6 [6 CDs: 56:09 + 52:37 + 41:51 + 60:54 + 51:40 + 52:36]

Experience Classicsonline

SVET has boxed Svetlanov’s Medtner recordings into a hinge-fragile six-discer. The range of the affiliation is clear from the contents; two of the Piano concertos, where he conducts, and the violin sonatas, where he plays piano, and the solo piano works where he proves a formidable exponent of the repertoire.
As before in this series there is a certain amount of executant and recording confusion. Apart from Svetlanov, no other instrumentalist in named, which is hardly helpful but seems to be a constant feature of the documentation in this series. So, for the record, Tatiana Nikolayeva and Abram Chatskes (or Shatskes) are the pianists in the concertos, whilst Alexander Labko is the violinist. The Borodin Quartet joins Svetlanov for the Quintet.
Nikolayeva proves to be a laudable exponent of the First Concerto. The orchestra’s basses dig in, the trumpet principal’s playing is florid and vibrant, and all the while the impressive soloist carries on fluently. It’s a richly characterised performance long on individualistic colouristic sounds in the orchestra. Abram Chatskes plays the C minor Second and does so with romantic refinement as well as laconic wit. The first movement cadenza is dispatched with authority and command. Svetlanov takes over for the two solo morceaux; Opp.31 and 42; the dramatic Russian Fairy Tale and the Marche funebre.
The next three discs are given over largely to the Svetlanov-Labko partnership. The Canzonas with dances witness excellent ensemble and are thoughtfully sensitive The First sonata is a lyric effusion, with singing Labko tone to the fore, and a few rather old fashioned catches adding to the sense of ‘period’ style in the second movement. The second movement dance is nicely pointed, whilst the finale winds down delightfully. The composer recorded this sonata rather less discursively with violinist Cecilia Hansen, but the recording was never issued at the time. It turned up on an APR CD. The Second Sonata is a considerably larger-scaled and more obviously imposing work. The duo catches the grandeur-striving element as well as its obviously lissom lyricism as well. The faster variations of the Theme and variations are played with dash and metrical freedom, whilst the finale is vibrantly realised. The Third sonata is a bigger work still. This Elegiac Epic hardly seems its considerable length when the performance is good, as this one is. Fortunately also Labko can float a line without it sounding self-conscious and without the narrative line buckling, which would be disastrous in this work. Fortunately also characterisation remains vivid, and awareness of the work’s peaks and troughs laudably unselfconscious. In the Piano Quintet Svetlanov assumes something of a primus inter pares position, playing in ripe virtuoso fashion. This is a highly atmospheric work and the incidents of reverie and March dynamism are excavated with surety; so too the gathering confidence of the finale.
The sixth disc contains some superb piano music. Svetlanov programmes three of the Op.38 set, Forgotten Memories. He negotiates the first’s passionate and powerful romantic vortex and frequent tempo changes with verve, maintained over a long span. The gentle charm of the second is played with requisite graziosa and he vests the fourth with delicate articulation. This disc is infiltrated by Eduard Nápravnik’s music, three orchestral pieces; two are actually from his opera Dubrovsky. The first is a Tchaikovskian lyric intermezzo, whilst the second is a bravado-laced Polonaise. To finish we have a magisterially emotional performance of Melancholy, Op. 48 No.3 – which should be far better known.
Apart from the documentary glitches this is an impressive set. We’re missing Nikolayeva’s performance of the Third Piano Concerto which she and Svetlanov gave with the Central Radio and All-Union Radio Lyric Symphony Orchestra – catchy name – but that aside I think all his Medtner is here; or, at least, all you’ll ever need. Naturally there is strong competition all round and in far more up-to-date performances with rather better sound, but this big box is unique in its corpus of recordings and represents a single authoritative voice marshalling events whether at the keyboard or on the rostrum. For Svetlanov adherents that should be pretty self-recommending.
Jonathan Woolf

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