and various chamber works for piano

The Nikolai Medtner piano concerti are big, powerful works.  They should be in the concerto repertoire and I am pleased to note that a growing number of younger pianists are in fact performing and recording them.

The apparent difficulty is that they are in a sense oddities for their straddling of the Romantic and Modern eras.  While giving every appearance of being romantic piano concerti, they do not offer the melodic richness found in the Rachmaninoff concerti, with the exception of the 4th, which would suffer similarly were the first three, and Rachmaninoff himself, not so immensely popular.  But they are indeed mature works of great wonder and merit, and as with all good music, repeated listening will make this apparent.

The first of the Medtner piano concerti, a war time work written between 1914 and 1918, is essentially in one movement which can be divided into four sections.  With nods to Liszt and Brahms as well as to the modern, the structure is very convincing, though complex, and requires a degree of familiarity to appreciate.

The second of the Medtner piano concerti (1920-1927) is dedicated to Sergei Rachmaninoff, who reciprocated by dedicating his own fourth piano concerto to Medtner.  It is in the same key as Rachmaninoff's second concerto and begins every bit as dramatically, though in a very different fashion.  This concerto is more accessible than the first from the initial measures.  The opening Toccata is gripping, and the influence of Rachmaninoff more apparent.  However, Medtner's language has also evolved and one never has the impression of listening to a derivative work.

Instead of melody, this second of the Nikolai Medtner concerti uses rhythm to get the listener's attention, and it is successful in accomplishing just that.  Like a great wine, there are brief hints of other flavors, Rimsky-Korsakoff, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, of course, even Carl Nielsen and Richard Strauss, and Brahms again.

For those who like to read into things, one could draw a parallel between Medtner and Rachmaninoff both of whose first essays in this form were a bit too advanced for their time, and whose second attempts were, in a word, fabulosi.

The third of the Medtner Piano Concerti (1940-43) is another big work, this time in three connected movements.  The writing for piano is often more in the language of Rachmaninoff and more blatantly melodic as well.  This is an unabashedly romantic concerto which arrived perhaps too late in Medtner's Lexicon.

Were you to ask me if I believe Nilolai Medtner to be a composer as great as Rachmaninoff, I would reply unequivocally that I do not. In my opinion, few are.  Nonetheless, Medtner is a composer of the first rank, and wrote infinitely better music than did the endless parade of deservedly forgotten composers whose works are laid before us at regular intervals.  The fact is that most forgotten composers are deserving of their posthumous fate.  Nikolai Medtner is decidedly not.  It is more than likely that timing was his biggest enemy.

Of the chamber works below, the most stunning is the Piano Quintet. Medtner began to sketch the work in 1903 and worked on all his life, finally completing it several years before his death.  I am considerably less enthusiastic about his works for violin and piano.

Piano Concerto 1 in C minor, Op 33 (1914–18)
Nikolai Medtner, piano
George Weldon conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London

recorded in 1947

Piano Concerto 2 in C minor, Op 50 (1920–27)
Nikolai Medtner, piano
Issay Dobrowen conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra of London

i Toccata (Allegro risoluto)
15:55  ii Romance (Andante con moto)
24:55  iii Divertimento (Rondo - Allegro risoluto e molto vivace)

recorded in 1947

Piano Concerto 3 in E minor, Op 60 "Ballade" (1940-43)
Nikolai Medtner, piano
Issay Dobrowen conducting the Philarmonia Orchestra of London

i Con moto largamente
14:32  ii Interludium (Allegro, molto sostenuto e misterioso)
16:03  iii Finale (Allegro molto, svegliando, eroica)

recorded in 1947

Piano Concerto 1 in C minor, Op 33 (1914–18)
Allegro - Tranquillo, meditamente - Tempo I - Coda. Allegro molto

Tatiana Nikolayeva (1924-1993), Russian Soviet pianist
Evgeny Svetlanov conducting the USSR Symphony Orchestra
recorded in 1980

Igor Zhukov (b 1936), Russian pianist
Alexander Dmitriev conducting the USSR Large Radio-Television Symphony Orchestra
recorded in 1973

Geoffrey Tozer (1954-2009), Australian pianist
Paavo Järvi conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Exposition - 08:50  Development - 24:27  Recapitulation - 26:54  Coda

Yury Martynov (b 1969), Russian pianist
Alexander Sladkovsky conducting the "New Russia" Symphony Orchestra

Yevgeny Sudbin (b 1980), Russian pianist
John Neschling conducting the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra
recorded in 2006

Piano Concerto 2 in C minor, Op 50 (1920–27)

Geoffrey Tozer (1954-2009), Australian pianist
Paavo Järvi conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra

i Toccata (Allegro risoluto)
15:57  ii Romanza (Andante con molto)
24:49  iii Divertimento (Allegro risoluto e molto vivace)

Marc-André Hamelin (b 1961), Canadian pianist
Charles Dutoit conducting the Montreal Symphony Orchestra
recorded in 1997

ia Toccata - Allegro risoluto (beginning)

ib Toccata - Allegro risoluto (cadenza and conclusion)

ii Romanza - Andante con moto

iii Divertimento - Allegro Risoluto e molto vivace

Boris Berezovsky (b 1969)
Alexander Sladkovsky conducting the "New Russia" Symphony Orchestra

i Toccata (Allegro risoluto)
17:19  ii Interludium (Andante con moto)
26:57  iii Finale (Allegro Risoluto e molto vivace)

recorded live in 2007

Piano Concerto 3 in E minor, Op 60 "Ballade" (1940-43)

Geoffrey Tozer (1954-2009), Australian pianist
Paavo Järvi conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra

i Con moto largamente
12:35  ii Interludium (Allegro, molto sostenuto e misterioso)
13:55  iii Finale (Allegro molto, svegliando, eroica)

Yevgeny Sudbin (b 1980), Russian pianist
Andrew Litton conducting the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra

Veronika Ilinskaya, contemporary Russian pianist
live recording with unidentified conductor and orchestra

Part I

Part II

Piano Quintet in C major, Op posth (1903-1948)

Nikolai Medtner, piano with the Aeolian Quartet

i Molto placido
8:54  ii Andantino con moto
13:58  iii Finale. Allegro vivace

recorded in 1949

Ksenia Plakhtij, piano - Maria Ambartsumian, I violin - Daria Samoylova, II violin -
Varvara Grindenko, viola - Mina Zakic, cello

i Molto placido

ii Andantino con moto

 iii Finale. Allegro vivace

Russian Round Dance for two pianos, Op 58~1
Nikolai Medtner and Benno Moiseiwitsch, pianos

recorded in 1946

Violin Sonata 1 in B minor, Op 21

Cecilia Hanses, violin - Nikolai Medtner, piano

i Canzona - Canterellando
07:28  ii Danza - Allegro scherzando
13:24  iii Ditirambo - Festivamente

recorded in 1947

Oleg Kagan, violin - Sviatoslav Richter, piano

i Canzona - Canterellando
06:42  ii Danza - Allegro scherzando
12:08  iii Ditirambo - Festivamente

1981 video

Violin Sonata 3 in E minor, Op 57 "Epic"

David Oistrach, violin - Alexander Goldenweiser, piano
recorded in 1959

i Introduzione - Allegro
15:54  ii Scherzo - Allegro molto vivace et leggiero
23:19  iii Andante con moto
32:02  iv Finale - Allegro molto

Alexander Labko, violin - Evgeny Svetlanov, piano
recorded in 1968

ia Introduzione - Andante meditamente (beginning)

ib Introduzione - Andante meditamente (conclusion)

ii Scherzo - Allegro molto vivace, leggiero

iii Andante con moto

iv Finale - Allegro molto (beginning)

iv Finale - Allegro molto (conclusion)


Grigory Feygin, violin - Igor Khudoley, piano
recorded in 1982

i Introduzione - Allegro
15:56  ii Scherzo - Allegro molto vivace et leggiero
24:70  iii Andante con moto
33:04  iv Finale: Allegro molto

Nocturne 3 in C minor for violin and piano, Op 16~3
Alexander Labko, violin - Evgeny Svetlanov, piano

recorded in 1968

For those of you who enjoy murder mysteries, here is my first with a strong musical polemic as background

Murder in the House of the Muse

which is also available as an audiobook.

And this is the more recently published second mystery in the series:

Murder Follows the Muse

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