Medtner: Violin Sonata No. 1 in B minor; Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor (Epica)

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COMPOSERS: Medtner
LABELS: ASV
WORKS: Violin Sonata No. 1 in B minor; Violin Sonata No. 2 in E minor (Epica)
PERFORMER: Mateja Mariinkovi’c (Violin); Linn Hendry (Piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CD DCA 951
There are strong arguments for taking a fresh look at the music of Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), and they might as well begin here. The first and last of the three violin sonatas he wrote between 1910 and 1936 receive impressive performances from the Russian violinist and Guildhall Professor Mateja Marinkovi´c. With his accompanist Linn Hendry, he plays this music as an act of both head and heart, just right for a grand yet introverted style, which, like that of Fauré, is the natural host of sensitive musicianship.

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The surreal cataract that illustrates the cover aptly suggests how these sonatas are experienced at first hearing. Though Taneyev, Medtner’s teacher, remarked that his pupil was born with a mastery of sonata form, their large structures initially seem rhapsodic. Their sense of coherent grandeur comes with repeated exposure; to the epic, 16-minute first movement of the Third Sonata, for example.

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Though he lived through the heyday of modernism, the composer remained immune to its developments. Yet he was neither the ‘Russian Brahms’ of legend, nor an also-ran Rachmaninov. Instead, as in the First Sonata, he turned deftly syncopated melody and harmony into a distinctive art of Classical evocation, laced, in the Third, with a brooding sense of personal nostalgia. Nicholas Williams