WORKS: Piano Sonatas (complete),
PERFORMER: Marc-André Hamelin (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67221-24
Perhaps it was inevitable that Medtner’s fellow-Russians, Rachmaninov and Scriabin, overshadowed him. Not only could they give Medtner seven and eight years respectively, but Rachmaninov’s music had the distinct edge on Medtner’s for memorability and panache, while Scriabin’s was more innovative, with a visionary, obsessive quality that demanded attention. Outside Russia, England has remained the country most receptive to Medtner’s warmly civilised yet rather muted personality, and even here he’s a minority interest, very much confined to pianists.
Medtner’s admirers, however fastidious, will probably welcome Hamelin’s set of four discs without many reservations. Compared with most Russian-trained pianists who play a lot of notes, Hamelin is a gentle soul, not given to aggressive displays of keyboard athleticism, even though no feat of agility seems beyond him, and, if anything, inclined to understate. I don’t mind when understatement applies to decibels, I do when musical character is affected. But in Medtner’s case, understatement seems the name of the game.
Compared with Hamelin, Tozer is more forthright, but also more percussive, and the Chandos recording is inappropriately harder than Hyperion’s. Even so, Tozer is well worth listening to, and he is, after all, covering all of Medtner’s piano music in his ongoing series, not just the sonatas. Adrian Jack