Medtner & Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Medtner & Rachmaninoff
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Medtner & Rachmaninoff: Piano Sonatas
WORKS: Rachmaninov Variations on a Theme of Corelli; Piano Sonata No. 2 • Medtner Skazki; Sonata in B flat minor
PERFORMER: Steven Osborne (piano)

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Here’s an excellent programme of evocative works by Rachmaninov and his close colleague Medtner, their virtuosic demands effortlessly surmounted in performances of compelling narrative sweep. We have a sonata by each composer, not only in the same key but also sharing several Russian characteristics – most obviously bells, ringing as if from afar in Medtner, or jangling and chiming almost constantly in Rachmaninov’s first movement. The Medtner, furthermore, includes a dazzling scherzo which foretells the finale of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, itself based on a setting from his Allnight Vigil.

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The CD opens with two earlier Skazki (Fairytales), the first a grand and soulful opening chapter; the second, with its insistent, menacing bass line, suggesting devilish mischief. More diablerie appears in Rachmaninov’s so-named Corelli Variations: its theme is in fact ‘La folia’, given the kind of treatment Rachmaninov revisited in his celebrated Paganini Rhapsody. The recital ends with his technically daunting Sonata No. 2, originally composed in 1913, then revised in 1931. Vladimir Horowitz made a performing version which reintegrated into the revised version some of the original’s most striking passages; Steven Osborne follows his example, though using more of Rachmaninov’s leaner reworkings. His account is powerful and propulsive, while giving the quieter and more poetic episodes their due. Daniel Jaffé