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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Prologue from Stimmungsbilder, Op.1 [3:52]
Fairy Tale, Op.51 No.3 [3:29]
Sonata-Reminiscenza Op. 38 No. 1 [13:17]
Fairy Tale, Op. 20 No. 1, Allegro con espressione [2:44]
Fairy Tale, Op. 26 No. 1, Allegretto frescamente [2:36]
Canzona matinata Op.39 No.4 [4:08]
Sonata Tragica Op.39 No.5 [10:06]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)
D Major: Op.23 No.4 [4:07]
G Minor Op. 23: No. 5 [3:44]
G Major Op. 32: No. 5 [2:47]
F Minor Op.32 No.6 [1:26]
G-Sharp Minor Op. 32 No. 12 [2:25]
D-flat Major Op. 32: No. 13 [4:42]
Yevgeny Sudbin (piano)
rec. February & June 2009, April 2012, July, October, November 2014 at St. George’s, Bristol, UK
BIS BIS-1848 SACD [59:23]

Yevgeny Sudbin’s previous BIS recordings include Medtner's three piano concertos as well as three of Rachmaninov's concertante works. This present disc brings together solo pieces by those two Russian pianist-composers (who were also friends). The range of recording dates given above hardly suggests a planned recital however. Perhaps session time was used when available to set down some shorter solo works, until there were enough of them for a full CD. However it was assembled, this selection, dominated by Medtner who gets about three-quarters of the playing time, adds up to an appealing and satisfying programme, not least because the pianist has such obvious empathy with all these pieces.

Sudbin’s admiration for the music of Nikolai Medtner could hardly be greater. “Fashions come and go, but Medtner’s music is for eternity”, proclaims the opening sentence of his own intriguing booklet note. He even owns some of Medtner’s former belongings, and refers to marginal notes (musical and verbal) in some of the composer’s books that “witness how a creation springs into being.” That identification with Medtner transmits itself to much of the playing here.

Stimmungsbilder (Mood Pictures) was the eighteen-year-old composer's Opus 1, and its Prologue makes an enchanted beginning, all Russian bells and chants and fine melody floated on a rippling accompaniment. Sudbin keeps all this flowing in his swift manner (his timing is 3:47), whereas Hamish Milne, in his two-disc Hyperion collection, sees the andante cantabile as rather broader, taking 4:27 (review here). The next item Op.51 No.3 is one of the three ‘Fairy Tales’ in this selection. Medtner composed over thirty such pieces throughout his career, and used the Russian word skazka or German Märchen to describe them. “No one tells such tales as Kolya”, Rachmaninov said, and they are perhaps his most distinctive – but varied - genre. This example from opus 51 is the only Medtner work Horowitz ever recorded, and Sudbin references that in both his booklet note and to some extent even in his own interpretation. But Milne might be closer to the composer’s ‘allegretto tranquillo e grazioso’ in his two-disc complete survey of all the Skazki, also on Hyperion (review).

The Sonata-Reminiscenza is again kept moving and given a button-holing performance, Sudbin being expert at delineating even the thornier writing. This is one of Medtner’s better-known (or rather less obscure) pieces, and one can hear why. Sudbin’s tempi – he takes 13:09 for its one movement - outpace both the still brisk (14:44) Anna Vinnitskaya on her debut disc (review), and Marc-André Hamelin’s very expansive traversal (16:04) in his fine Hyperion complete sonata cycle (review). After another pair of the briefer ‘Fairy Tales’ the Medtner selection closes with the Sonata Tragica, composed just before Medtner left Russia in 1921, never to return. It is another one-movement sonata, continuously inventive, and very persuasively played. Here Sudbin is the one taking a little more time in the lyrical passages and letting the music breathe, but without ever losing impetus, his timing fifty seconds longer than Hamelin’s nine minutes.

The Rachmaninov selection offers six of the preludes, beginning with the songful D major Op.23 No.5, where his roots in the Russian grand manner are very evident, as they are again in the famous Alla Marcia in G minor (Op. 23 No. 5), tautly rhythmic in the march and bringing out the lyrical inner parts in its consoling middle section. In the exquisitely refined G major (Op.32 No.5) he relishes the Ravelian textures he mentions in his booklet note, as he does the poignancy of the G sharp minor, No.12 from the Op. 32 set. With a fine SACD recording and that valuable booklet note, this Sudbin issue can be recommended to anyone to whom the programme appeals. The Medtner in particular will be valuable to anyone unfamiliar with his music and who wants a good sample of it, alongside some for much more familiar Rachmaninov. It takes a little longer to get to know Medtner, and if he does eventually speak to you, there are those Hamelin and Milne discs on Hyperion to explore his world more fully.

Roy Westbrook



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