Jānis MEDIŅŠ (1890–1966)
24 Dainas (Preludes) (1921–1962)
Jonathan Powell (piano)
rec. 11-12 August 2006, Durham University Music School. DDD
Full track-list at end of review
This is the first recording on commercial CD of the Latvian Jānis Mediņš’ cycle of 24 short and succinct Preludes. He has winning ways, as these estimable, dramatic, poetic and touching pieces, written across four decades, go to prove.
Mediņš came of a very musical family. His brothers Jāzeps (1877-1947) and Jēkabs(1885-1971) were also composers. He studied the violin, cello and piano in what was later termed the First Riga Musical Institute. Much of his adult life was spent in Sweden where he majored on chamber music. There are however quite a few other works. If you are feeling adventurous after this CD try the Piano Concerto (1932) and Violin Sonata No. 2 on YouTube.
The romantic tenor of Mediņš’ music is never in doubt in these Preludes. Think Rachmaninov with a folk accent and with the occasional foray into the complexities of Chopin and Medtner. There are some similarities also with the Heino Eller’s piano music as recorded by Sten Lassmann across two volumes by Toccata (review) and by Vardo Rumessen on Pro Piano (review). These Dainas merit being counted in the same company as the preludes by York Bowen (Chandos played by Joop Celis) and the Skazki of Medtner (Hamish Milne on Hyperion CDA67491/2).
The Daina is a Latvian folk form. You can hear that rustic skirl in the euphuistic and muscular bell tones of No. 4. Contrast that with the Chopin-like feminine grace of No. 6 and the increasingly swirling passion of No. 10. The latter recalls the sound signature of John Ireland. The crepuscular No. 11 has a murmurous and lullingly dreamy character; likewise No. 14 with its fragile harmonies let loose on a world touched lightly with MacDowell’s salon sentiment. No. 12 euphorically asserts its confidence. There are strong DNA traces of Rachmaninov here – the exultant peaks of the Piano Concertos 2 and 3. No. 15 starts simply but rapidly and naturally evolves into something complex and equivocal. No. 18 is something of a brown study –Bachian in its character, though struck through with tragedy. Move on then to No. 19 with its fast cascading coruscation of notes. Not for the first time we encounter a deep Housman-style pool with the observer drawn into its inky emotional maelstrom (No. 21). No. 22 with its gawky corpse-bride, stalking angularity sounds like an escapee from Tim Burton. No. 23 takes us back close to the world of No. 14 with a slowly welling and almost Graingerian sentimentality. The last Daina is rapturously swirled and belled out.
Jonathan Powell who provides the usual exemplary encyclopaedic notes for Toccata (9pp, English only) is familiar with the obscure Russian and Baltic repertoire. He has been an active advocate at the piano of Blumenfeld, Feinberg and Goldenweiser. Goldenweiser he has recorded for Toccata.
We should now watch the skies for Toccata’s collection of the piano music of Konstantin Eiges (1875-1950) - a friend of both Rachmaninov and Medtner. After that perhaps Martin Anderson can be persuaded to tackle the solo piano music of Derbyshire Rachmaninov enthusiast Roger Sacheverell Coke.
For the present, admirers of Rachmaninov, Medtner and Bortkiewicz can revel in this estimable, dramatic, grandly poetic, touching and never garrulous music.
  Rob Barnett
Estimable, dramatic, grandly poetic and touching pieces written across four decades.

Full Track-List

1 Daina No. 1 3:56
2 Daina No. 2 3:05
3 Daina No. 3 1:41
4 Daina No. 4 2:36
5 Daina No. 5 2:13
6 Daina No. 6 2:38
7 Daina No. 7 4:39
8 Daina No. 8 2:50
9 Daina No. 9 4:23
10 Daina No. 10 3:47
11 Daina No. 11 2:20
12 Daina No. 12 2:39
13 Daina No. 13 3:30
14 Daina No. 14 2:45
15 Daina No. 15 2:10
16 Daina No. 16 2:50
17 Daina No. 17 3:59
18 Daina No. 18 3:20
19 Daina No. 19 2:07
20 Daina No. 20 3:03
21 Daina No. 21 2:34
22 Daina No. 22 2:35
23 Daina No. 23 3:50
24 Daina No. 24 2:57

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