WORKS: Two Pieces for two pianos, Op. 58; Piano Quintet; Moment musical in C minor, Op. 4/3; Sonatina in G minor; Prelude in E flat, Op. 4/4; Sonata-Skazka in C minor, Op. 25/1
PERFORMER: Hamish Milne, Boris Berezovsky (piano), Kenneth Sillito, Malcolm Latchem (violin), Robert Smissen (viola), Stephen Orton (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 3515
It’s a natural paradox that late-Romantic composers like Medtner should have had a Classical, or at least a retrospective attitude. His Sonata-Skazka (the ‘skazka’ suggesting a narrative approach to continuity), expertly played by Hamish Milne here, has some really sonorous and extravagant gestures, yet Medtner seems to be using them for their own sake, as musical objects, rather than because he needs them to express himself. The piano-writing is gorgeous, though – like a Russian Brahms, though more elegant. Medtner is also good at endings – the Sonata-Skazka closes delightfully, and so does the first of the Two Pieces for two pianos. These are crisp and dazzling in Milne’s partnership with Berezovsky, and the subtle, civilised music is warmly satisfying. The Sonatina was a student work of 1898 but already stealthily personal. The Prelude is a beautifully sonorous, Romantic piece. Medtner was never as ‘catchy’ as Rachmaninoff, but perhaps his music is harder-wearing.
Which leaves the Piano Quintet that Medtner brooded over for more than 40 years. No wonder it is such a dark and mysterious piece. Its unusual, atmospheric opening is a hard act to follow, and the string-writing seems a bit thick and homogeneous in this recording, but the blend is good and the devotional, shadowy character of the music will certainly have an appeal to our more hermetic readers. Adrian Jack