Medtner: Goethe Lieder; Sonate-Vocalise, Op. 41/1; Suite-Vocalise, Op. 41/2

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Goethe Lieder; Sonate-Vocalise, Op. 41/1; Suite-Vocalise, Op. 41/2
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Geoffrey Tozer (piano)
Medtner used to be referred to as the ‘Russian Brahms’. Quite unfairly – yet of all Russian composers he had perhaps the closest affinities with German culture and nowhere illustrated more graphically than in his large number of Goethe songs, set in German and conceived very much as Lieder in the Schumann-Brahms-Wolf tradition. This latest addition to Geoffrey Tozer’s notable Medtner cycle presents a good selection of these, seductively interpreted by Susan Gritton. Where direct comparison is possible, Gritton and Tozer do not quite rival Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s 1950 recording with Medtner himself at the piano (EMI, no longer available), but they provide many more of these fine songs, and in much better sound. It was also a Goethe poem (which he sets as a kind of preface) that inspired Medtner’s wordless Sonate-Vocalise and Suite-Vocalise from the Twenties, larger-scale pieces of supreme evocativeness and aristocratic beauty, though I wouldn’t go as far as Tozer in the booklet in claiming them to be ‘Medtner’s finest works’. Tozer is, as ever, a dependable pair of hands in Medtner’s testing yet idiomatic piano writing. But this is Susan Gritton’s disc: both in the texted Lieder and the quasi-instrumental vocalises she produces a range of tone, an accuracy of intonation, a fluidity and sometimes grandeur of phrasing, that presents this eloquent and little-known music in a consistently beneficent light. All in all, an entrancing disc. Calum MacDonald