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Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Piano Music - Volumes 1-6
Hamish Milne (piano)
rec. London, 1977-1999. ADD (vols. 1-2), DDD (vols. 3-6)
Discs only available separately.
CRD 3338/3339/3460/3461/3498/3509 [54:56 & 60:22 & 68:22 & 64:05 & 69:18 & 65:18]

Complete works for violin and piano
Violin Sonata No. 1 in B minor op. 21 (1910) [20:41]
Violin Sonata No. 2 in G major op. 44 (1923) [40:17]
Three Nocturnes for violin and piano op. 16 (1909) [13:03]
Two Canzonas with Dances for violin and piano op. 43 (1922) [16:21]
Violin Sonata No. 3 in E minor Epica op. 57 (1939) [46:08]
Manoug Parikian (violin)
Hamish Milne (piano)
rec. BBC Concert Hall, and Maida Vale Studio, 23 December 1986 (1), 13 February 1985 (2), February 1986 (3), 10 March 1987 (Nocturnes; Canzonas). DDD
CRD 34934 [61:31 + 76:13]

Russian Round Dance Op. 58 No. 1  [5:29]
Knight Errant Op. 58 No. 2  [12:21]
Sonatina in G minor (1898) [7:26]
Moment Musical in G minor Gnomenklage op. 4 no. 3  [2:42]
Prelude in E flat Op. 4 no. 4  [2:33]
Sonata-Skazka in C minor op. 25 no. 1  [12:35]
Piano Quintet in C op. posth. (1904-45) [25:24]
Hamish Milne (piano)
Boris Berezovsky (piano: quintet)
Pro Arte Quartet (Kenneth Sillito (violin); Malcolm Latchem (violin); Robert Smissen (viola); Stephen Orton (cello))
rec. Potton Hall, Suffolk, 28-29 January 2000. DDD
CRD 3515 [69:49]

There is a lifetime's study, reflection and poetic expression in these recordings. Hamish Milne has made Medtner part of the core of his life's work and this is clearly evident in what we hear. He was there with CRD in the vanguard of a Medtner revival long before Hyperion and Chandos made such an impact. It is easy to forget that while Medtner was blessed with patronage that allowed him to record much of his output this was for years imprisoned in an obsolete medium: the 78 rpm disc; APR, Melodiya, St Laurent Studio and others have since redressed that situation. It took CRD and Hamish Milne to unfurl Medtner's heritage to a more receptive world and to do so on a systematic basis starting during the 1970s. Not that they were alone but this one pianist accomplished so much for Medtner.

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 classes conducted by Casals, Cortot and Segovia. He appeared as soloist with most of the leading British orchestras and has given over two hundred broadcasts for the BBC. For Hyperion he recorded the piano concertos of Lyapunov and the not unrelated 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 that launched the series and the detail of Russian miniatures that adorned each LP sleeve. Those now appear in diminutive glory on the cover of each of these CD booklets.

The CRD discs adopt a markedly different scheme to that applied for the Hyperion sets. Hyperion opted for the complete Sonatas with Hamelin, the complete Forgotten Melodies also with Hamelin and the complete Skazki (CDA67491/2) and Dithyrambs/shorter piano works with Milne. They already had the three piano concertos and Piano Quintet courtesy of Nikolai Demidenko (review review) and the violin sonatas 1 and 3 through Chloe Hanslip (review); no sign of No. 2? Chandos have also been very active with Geoffrey Tozer delivering eight CDs of the solo piano music (review review), the three piano concertos (CHAN241-25) and the Goethe lieder including the beautiful vocalise works (review).

CRD's approach is to mix solo piano works on each disc and in this Chandos and Geoffrey Tozer tracked the same course. I have sampled the CRD piano solo discs. 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 an effortless falling back into repose. Milne is a fine advocate 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 APR 5546. The music is 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. Chiming in nostalgic serenity the first of the op. 17 Three Novelles is entitled Daphnis and Chloe. Milne is excellent and this time the composer's dysjunct and halting version on APR comes across as almost stumbling in what requires a virtuosic poet of a pianist. Earl Wild's Ivory Classics version of the Second Improvisation op. 47 is somnolent by comparison; Milne reveals the piece as a fantastic cavalcade. In the Four Skazki op. 34 Milne instantly announces his way. The Magic Violin, with its Kreisler tribute, is measured yet mercurially responsive to Medtner's flickering changes. Recorded by Hyperion as part of their wonderful set of the complete Skazki, the sound is here more cushioned and smooth but the performance is very similar with attention again paid to the work's quasi-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. Irina Ossipova on Arte Nova 74321 93121 2 includes both sets of Forgotten Melodies opp. 38-39. In the Meditazione her approach is more halting, less volatile and not as responsive to the fleeting will-o'-th'-wisp aspects of the writing. Otherwise Milne on the CRD discs is a most attentive and concentrated Medtnerian. Medtner's classic sumptuous filigree and swirl is fully engaged in the Moment Musical - Gnomenklage. It is the third of the Four Pieces op. 3. The lavish romance of the fourth number from Op. 3 is gorgeously reflected in the Prelude in E flat which reaches towards the triumphant lyrical climaxes of the second and third piano concertos. Neither of these op. 3 pieces lasts more than 2:45. The compact Sonata-Skazka is in three movements. As Milne's note points out, it seems strange that this concise and direct-speaking work should share the same opus number as the subtle and large-scale Nightwind sonata. It dates from 1910-11 and its central movement has the sort of simple lyricism that Rachmaninov drew on in the more peaceful variations in the Paganini Rhapsody. The finale draws on stertorous cortège gestures, swirling bell-like asides and romantic abstractions typical of this noble and sincere composer.

The seraphic Piano Quintet (Pro Arte Quartet and Milne) is on CRD 3515. It's one of Medtner's most attractively impressive works. It grew very steadily over a forty-four year period beginning in 1904. Into its three movements and 25 minutes Medtner wove a series of old Russian hymns. One can discern a Rimskian gleam in the Molto placido first movement. The movement title belies its athletic bubbling energy. It is remarkably romantic, regal and touchingly confident (6:30). There is a short Andantino con moto that is both reverential and penitential with asides that suggest Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances and Rimsky's Russian Easter Festival. The finale is almost as long as the other two movements put together. Some of the gentlest writing recalls the Ravel Quartet with much exuberant, bell-like writing as well as an extended superb march theme at 2:50. This is sung out by all the players and saturated with exultant heroism. At 4.40 a Grieg-like accent is laid on that theme and the music morphs back into the heroic march. This is the quintessence of Russian soul: melancholic, serious, melodic and consummately poignant. I urge you to hear this version which catches the subtlety and ecstatically expressive essence of Medtner's life achievement. The composer dedicated it to God and never gave it an opus number.

Here the Quintet is a disc-companion to Milne and Boris Berezovsky for the briskly cheery two-piano works. The Russian Round Dance is an exuberant piece: half rumba half Ballade. It's unusually showy for Medtner; full of punch and stomp yet not superficial. The second such piece is Knight Errant. It runs to 12:11, a long continuous run of music for Medtner. This piece is in the nature of a fantasy overture with many episodes including a fugue, another rumba, a stomping Russian dance, a gawky romantically abstracted cortège (8:53) and some Tchaikovskian high jinks (10:41). It ends with great and subtle ingenuity.

Milne and CRD also deliver 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. This comes on two discs on CRD34934 with the violinist Manoug Parikian. These works are strong and often very appealing. There's a super-vivid and tightly close-up recording and the two players will not let your attention wander. They clearly believe in the music. The two discs are generously tracked; the second sonata is presented in no fewer than twelve tracks. Competition exists from Hyperion, ASV, Naxos, Melodiya and Chandos although very few of these will also offer the non-Sonata works for violin and piano.

Is it still too much to hope that a sensitive pianist and a team of young and intelligent singers might record the complete songs? It's a project for which there is a clamant need.

Good liner-notes are provided by Bryce Morrison, Hamish Milne and Chris de Souza.

I should note in passing that some years ago Brilliant Classics (review) licensed some of the CRD discs and issued them in a single piano solo box.

The BBC should not be forgotten in this context. Their various Medtner series broadcasts deployed pianists such as John Ogdon, Leslie Howard, Cor de Groot, Iris Loveridge, John Clegg, Bernard Roberts and Malcolm Binns. Binns' Medtner recordings for Pearl are well worth looking out for and if you can get to hear his BBC version of the Third Piano Concerto your listening time will not have been in vain.

I regret that Milne has not recorded the piano concertos – one day? We might also hope that he will give us the sonatas missing from this sequence including the Sonata Idyllica. Meantime these precious discs are moving testimony to a lifetime's study, reflection and poetry by one of the first Medtner pioneers after the composer and his pupil Edna Iles.
 
Those who would like to explore Medtner further should pay a visit to the Medtner site.

Rob Barnett

Contents
Piano Music - Volume 1
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]
rec. 1977

Volume 2
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]
rec. 1977

Volume 3
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]
rec. 1989

Nikolai MEDTNER (1880-1951)
Volume 4
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]
rec. 1989

Volume 5
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]
rec. 1999

Volume 6
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]
rec. 1999
 

 

 




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