Medtner: Romantic Sketches for the Young, Op. 54; Second Improvisation, Op. 47; Three Arabesques, Op. 7; Two Fairy Tales, Op. 8

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COMPOSERS: Medtner
LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Piano Works, Vol. 8
WORKS: Romantic Sketches for the Young, Op. 54; Second Improvisation, Op. 47; Three Arabesques, Op. 7; Two Fairy Tales, Op. 8
PERFORMER: Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10266
Geoffrey Tozer’s epic series of Nikolai Medtner’s piano music continues. Here the principal interest resides in the innocuously titled Second Improvisation from 1925, actually one of his most substantial works: a theme, 15 variations and coda lasting about half an hour. Very rarely recorded (there is a notable account by Earl Wild on Chesky), it occupies a roughly similar position in Medtner’s output to the Paganini Rhapsody in Rachmaninov’s, though here the theme, ‘The Song of the Water Nymph’, is Medtner’s own. He gave his variations whimsical-sounding titles involving elves and gnomes, waves, forests and storms, but the music is seriously beautiful in his most sophisticated manner, and Tozer may well be right to claim it as a work of tragic autobiography. (Presaged in this regard by the Three Arabesques, which Medtner saw as a premonition of the failed 1905 Revolution.) The later Romantic Sketches for the Young are hardly simpler in technique (Schumann’s Album für die Jugend the obvious model), though here ‘The Organ Grinder’ intrigues by its unexpected allusions to ragtime. Tozer’s passionate devotion to and sympathy with Medtner’s unique personality are matched by a technical command equal to the music’s very considerable interpretative demands. What he does not often display is the sheer devilry in the fast pieces, the flashes of illumination in the slower, that Wild, Nikolai Demidenko, Marc-André Hamelin and the composer himself have shown. But these plainspoken readings lay out the music in all its absorbing detail for us to hear and appreciate. Calum MacDonald

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