After years of drought we now, and blessedly, move into an era of plenty
where fine performances of the music of Nicolai Medtner abound. What do we
lack? The greatest omission is a complete set of the songs. This would be
a natural for Hyperion (who already have various song cycles to their credit)
or for Chandos who have already started the proces with one disc (Ludmilla
Andrew - am, I the only one to recall her very fine Sibelius Luonnotar
The present cycle is the second complete set of Medtner piano sonatas. The
first, reviewed by me last March, was
Hyperion's Hamelin set. This included
all 14 sonatas plus the two sets of Forgotten Melodies and Zwei
Märchen. That set was very special.
What I have found in listening to the two sets, the Hyperion for more than
six months, is that Medtner's art is supple and open to varying approaches.
Deeply rewarding, disciplined music with a fine sense of melody and fantasy
are in this case channelled into sonata-form. His German blood no doubt warmed
to the discipline of the sonata although the fences are pretty widely cast.
Tozer's boundless energy in this enterprise (bear in mind his complete set
of the piano concertos, and discs of the songs and violin sonatas - all on
Chandos) coupled with a sensitive and fresh approach, which could not have
been guaranteed in such a project, mark this set out as warmly rewarding.
The pianist's feeling for the music cannot be in doubt and communicates time
and again in eloquence and fantastic spirit. This is heard to very best advantage
in the Sonata-Triad (surely one of the wonders of Western music).
Examples of Tozer's sense of pacing, halting and pressing forward, leap from
each bar. He is lucid but not so analytical that ideas and textures are
deconstructed. Medtner's introspection however does not mean somnolence and
the storm (listen to the Sonata Minacciosa) can be unleashed just
as convincingly as the spinning of a lyrical line.
The obvious question is which of the two almost identical sets (Hyperion
or Chandos) you should opt for. Both are glowingly recorded. Both are well
documented. The truth is that both are glowingly romantic documents brimming
with pianism of the highest order. Neither has a single routine performance.
Everything is put across as an 'event' in its own right. The choice comes
down to personal taste. Tozer will appeal if you warm to the extremes of
sensitivity and the gloriously just sense of pacing and flow. He always has
'le mot juste'. Hamelin's performances are somehow more dangerous and the
sense of fantasy streams off the concentric circles of the disc in a starry
torrent worthy of that fine illustrator Virgil Finlay.
Purchase of either of these sets is unlikely to leave you disappointed. The
choice is yours. Either way you will be granted a seat at the edge of a dream.