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American Record Guide Reviews Medtner in England

American Record Guide’s January/February issue features a wonderful review for Alexander Karpeyev, Natalia Lomeiko, and Theodore Platt’s Medtner in England recording:

“Nikolai Medtner (1879–1951) has been with some justice described as a Russian Brahms. Like Brahms’s, his music is serious, well made, and usually “absolute” as opposed to programmatic, and subtly incorporates ethnic elements. His Violin Sonata 3, Epika, is a complex three-quarter hour affair in 4 movements. It starts with a meditative slow introduction using bell-like piano chords and a violin theme that reappears in varying guises in the work. The music is tuneful, with a subdued Russian flavor and embellished melodies. A grand coda leads to a decrescendo ending. II, the scherzo, is similar in character to I, but with popular additions such as a tango rhythm. III, the andante, has a variant of the intro of the first movement. Coloristically, it effectively uses resounding violin pizzicatos against resonant piano chords. IV has an opening dance-like theme with staccato phrases. It also has a subtle variant of the Russian Chant `Let God Arise’, familiar from Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Russian Easter Overture. After an idyllic section, the movement proceeds at a feverish pace and level of invention to a furious abrupt end. When questioned about the length of the piece, Medtner replied “Whoever heard of a short epic?”

The first movement of the Sonata-Idylle (Sonata 14) is titled Pastorale. It’s a pleasant piece in an ABA plan, though its theme becomes more intricate. Its elaboration works in the opening theme as both a treble and bass. II borders on clangy post-romantic boilerplate but doesn’t cross that border. An eloquent second theme helps, as does the impressive range of color the composer draws from a piano.

The 8 Songs were posthumously assembled by 1961. They use poems by Eichendorff, Lermontov, Pushkin, and Tyutchev. They’re generally well set; on a couple, Medtner adds vocalises to the texts to round out phrases. Among their virtues are the subtly linked musical lines of Lermontov’s `Prayer’. From Pushkin’s `If Life Deceives You’ in the lines “the heart lives in the future, the present is joyless”, the accompanying harmonies seem to collapse under the words. In the final song, Tyutchev’s `Repose’, under the last line “[the soul] is carried away by a mighty wave”, the piano part surges up from below to an impressive climax.

All the music is well done. Violinist Lomeiko, in a hair-raisingly tough part, has a full tone with the finger dexterity needed to clarify many ornamented and melismatic passages. Karpayev as both accompanist and soloist furnishes beautiful playing. Baritone Theodore Platt sings with accurate pitch and, in the German poems especially, good diction. The notes include texts and translations.

ARG colleague Roger Hecht commented to me on the generally high level of musicianship on the records we review these days, and I have to agree. I’ve rarely had to warn against any performance in over 17 years with this magazine. It seems ironic that when people talk about serious music fading, its performers seem better than ever.“

—Dan O’Connor, © 2024 American Record Guide