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Magil
American Record Guide, January 2008

I remember one evening when I was driving home tuning in to the local classical station and hearing a few minutes of some piano music that was just heavenly. It turned out to have been written by Nikolai Medtner. Now I have a disc to review of some of his violin music, and I'm wondering why I haven't heard this man's music before.

Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) was born too late. He wrote in a feverish, late-romantic idiom when that style had been abandoned by nearly everyone else. He fled Russia after the revolution and failed to develop the kind of career that his countryman and fellow romantic Rachmaninoff had. He had nearly as much talent, as these compositions attest. They are gorgeous. His music has the fairy-tale-like quality that the finest Russian music of the late 19th Century has and soulful melodies. Parts of the sonata are modal, giving them a spicy Russian flavor.

The sonata was written in 1938, after the composer settled in England, after his brother died, and after he converted to Russian Orthodoxy (his family was German, so he was raised a Lutheran). All his nostalgia for Russia went into this sonata—especially the final, with its folk songs and Orthodox liturgical chant melodies.

The three Nocturnes are deliciously melancholy, and the Fairy Tale, arranged by Jascha Heifetz from a piano piece, is a piece of intense emotion that the composer instructed a student to play" as though appealing to someone with fervent entreaty". Intoxicating.

Laurence Kayaleh is a real virtuoso violinist. She doesn't trip over any of Medtner' s runs or fast, bounced bowings; and she even manages to sound a lot like Heifetz in the Fairy Tale. Paul Stewart is a fine accompanist and did a fine job on the booklet notes.



Scott Cantrell
The Dallas Morning News, September 2007

Disc captures splendors of Nikolay Medtner's violin, piano compositions

A RUN OF MEDTNER: Just months after Hamish Milne's superb two-CD set of Nikolay Medtner's Skazki (fairy tales) for piano arrived from Hyperion, Naxos promises the Russian composer's complete works for violin and piano. This disc works from the outside in, with the early triptych of nocturnes and the last of the three numbered sonatas. There's an added treat in Jascha Heifetz's arrangement of one of Medtner's Skazki (the passionate Op. 20, No. 1, in B flat minor).

IN A SHADOW: Medtner had the misfortune to live in the shadow of his slightly older contemporary Rachmaninoff (who, by the way, was a great admirer of Medtner and dedicated his Fourth Piano Concerto to him). Both were virtuoso pianists as well as composers, and both wrote in a rich, late-Romantic style, Medtner's more German-influenced. But there wasn't room for both, it seems, and Rachmaninoff's music has a more immediate appeal.

Some of Medtner's piano music can seem a bit overweight, and the sheer length of the Third Violin Sonata (46 minutes) will militate against widespread performances. But this is music beautifully and often dazzlingly written for both instruments, and it's played with sympathy and élan by violinist Laurence Kayaleh and pianist Paul Stewart.

BOTTOM LINE: Unjustly neglected music, splendidly played and recorded.



David Denton
David's Review Corner, August 2007

Though there are occasional flurries of interest in Nikolay Medtner, we know precious little of the music that came from the Moscow-born pianist and composer, Rachmaninov once describing him as 'the greatest composer of our time'. It was an outrageous exaggeration but reflected the high opinion of his colleagues while he was working in Russia. That was all to turn sour in 1917 when at thirty-seven, and seen as bourgeois, his wealth and position vanished in the Revolution, though he and his wife here prevented from leaving Russia until 1921. Looking for a new home in Central Europe, the couple eventually arrived in England where they at last found sanctuary. He quickly gained champions, but his soul was still in Russia, and by the time the Second World War was ended his style of composition had long passed into history. If his piano works appear from time to time on disc we know almost nothing of his music for violin and piano which was small enough to be contained within two CDs - of which this is the first one. If Medtner had a problem it was in finding the thematic material that lodges immediately in the listener's memory, though he was highly adapt at creating music where the violin and piano have equal importance. Yet if those memorable melodies eluded him, there was no lack of ideas, many coming so fast that they hardly have time to register in his rhapsodic and eclectic style of writing. The Third Sonata, which in playing time outlasts most 20th century symphonies, was completed in 1938 and shortly after arriving in England. The real opening movement follows an Introduction and is heavy laden with a personal sense of sadness shot through with dramatic outbursts. The Scherzo injects a short spell of joy before the Andante brings contemplation. As if a summary the finale touches all of these many moods. Even in happier times, the Three Nocturnes from 1907 do not bring cheer, the genesis of the music coming from Goethe's poem, Nachtgesang, where it is sleep that comes as a relief from life's experiences. Finally we have Jascha Heifetz's transcription of a lightweight piano piece, Fairy Tale. The Sonata is demanding on both stamina and technical ability, the Kayaleh/Stewart duo well endowed with both. It requires a firm hand to shape and unify the structure which they do admirably, bringing a jazzy mood to the Scherzo, while never allowing the music too sink in self-pity. The remaining tracks are equally well played. Admirable sound quality.






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12:26:57 AM, 29 August 2014
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