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Medtner: Six Poems; Five Poems

Sofia Fomina (soprano), Alexander Karpeyev (piano) (Chandos)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Six Poems by Pushkin, Op. 36; Five Poems, Op. 37, etc.
Sofia Fomina (soprano), Alexander Karpeyev (piano)
Chandos CHAN 20171   57:11 mins

Though Russian soprano Sofia Fomina has created a stir in the opera house, this all-Medtner disc would appear to be her first commercial Lieder recording. Rather than cherry-pick across the opus numbers (as did the survey curated by pianist Iain Burnside for Delphian a couple of years ago), she opts for four complete sets of songs: two composed before Medtner fled the aftermath of the Russian Revolution; and two composed in Brittany before London beckoned in 1936. And while Russian poets fuel Opp. 36, 37 and 45, Op. 46’s Goethe, Eichendorff and Chamisso settings reflect Medtner’s German sympathies – nurtured through family links stretching back to Goethe himself.

The pianist’s role is crucial. Medtner was a fine performer, and the piano is so often in the driving seat as words blossom into song. Alexander Karpeyev provides the ideal grounding for Fomina’s famously silvery tone (which can assume a hard-edged glint as required). How weightlessly it hovers over his sumptuously rippling accompaniment at the start of ‘The Angel’ (Op. 36/1), and how hollowed out is the desolation of ‘The Flower’ which follows. Karpeyev takes the ever-changing emotional temperature of the Pushkin-setting ‘Elegy’ (Op. 45/1) with an unfailing sensitivity to its rise and fall; and he seizes the reins of ‘The Wagon of Life’ (Op. 45/2) with robust determination, egging on the scornful disdain of Fomina’s ‘easy now, you fool’. Her colouristic range can be a little circumscribed, but this is a rewarding addition to a still unaccountably under-populated discography.

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Paul Riley