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Bob Briggs
MusicWeb International, April 2009

Only the 1st Violin Sonata, a relatively early piece, falls into the conventional three movement sonata-structure. This is an innocent, romantic piece, well wrought with the young composer flexing his compositional muscles. Kayaleh and Stewart perform it as if it was the Franck Sonata—richly and romantically, emphasizing the melodic aspects of the work. They point towards, what at the time must have seemed like, a new sound-world. This is a lovely performance.

The 2nd Violin Sonata of fourteen years later is an altogether different prospect. Playing for nearly three-quarters of an hour, with a virtuoso piano part of almost Concerto dimensions, here is the mature composer, fully in command of his art, creating music of heroic dimensions. Indeed, heroic is a word which ably describes Medtner’s largest works, such as the Sonata reminiscenza, op.38/1 (from the Forgotten Melodies: Volume 1) (1919) or the towering Sonata in E minor, The Night Wind, op.25/2 (1913). This work, in three movements, an Introduction, Theme and Variations and a rondo finale, is an emotionally exhausting experience, so complex are Medtner’s argument and thick textures. Those who claim that Medtner’s was a smaller talent than Rachmaninov’s need only to hear this work to be disabused of such a misguided thought. That Medtner didn’t possess Rachmaninov’s overt passionate outpourings is irrelevant—this is simply very fine music. I am sure that that is one reason why this fabulous music has been ignored. Kayaleh and Stewart’s understanding, and very obvious passionate advocacy shines through every bar of their performance. They never lose sight of the ultimate musical goal. They throwing off of the complexities of the music and bringing out the glowing, and very sunny, conclusion to the work. It’s not a moment too long and at the end I would quite happily have spent another half hour with it had the composer thought this necessary!

Between the two Sonatas is the lighter Two Canzonas with (two) Dances, a delightful concoction which makes no pretense at profundity. It is there simply to please.

This is a super disk well worth getting hold of. Medtner’s art is very special and our lack of hearings of his works has robbed us all of something extraordinarily wonderful. With very good recording and fine notes this is a release to return to again and again.

American Record Guide, August 2008

Hard on the heels of Naxos's first volume of music for violin and piano by Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) comes the second. Volume 1 had the gorgeous Violin Sonata 3, titled the Epica, (Jan/Feb 2008) while here we have Sonata 1, inspired by the myths of Dionysus, and 2, the Spring Sonata.

This program is as delightful as the earlier one. Medtner's compositional skills improved over time, but he was a real composer from the start, not just someone who published music to pay the bills—which, by the way, he had a hard time doing. Even in these earlier works there are no longueurs or passages where the composer is just filling in measures for transitions from one theme to the next. He doesn't juxtapose good themes with mediocre ones either. Another thing that happened with time is that Medtner's compositions got longer. Sonata 1 takes almost 21 minutes here, Sonata 2 takes twice as long, and Sonata 3 takes nearly 47 minutes. It's remarkable that the longer his compositions got, the better they became.

Sonata 1 is in three movements: Canzona, Danza, and Ditirambo. Composed in 1910-11, it is a work full of youthful exuberance and believably reflects the condition of inspired intoxication that the artist experiences in the act of creation. The sonata has the same lusty, romantic type of melody as on the earlier disc. Kayaleh and Stewart incorporate revisions that the composer made in his 1947 recording with Cecilia Hansen. It is followed by the two Canzonas with Dances from 1924, written in exile. These are lovely mood pieces, and I find myself swept away by them.

Sonata 2 was written around the same time as the Canzonas and Dances. Medtner expands on the homesick mood of the second canzona, and the sonata expresses how much he misses the beauty of springtime in his native Russia. It is modeled partly after Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata, with a majestic slow introduction to the first movement and a theme and variations middle movement, only Medtner sandwiches it between two cadenzas that relate to the theme of II. The theme is a bit solemn, with a strong Russian character, and quite lovely. The variations are masterly. III is joyous. After listening to these two releases, I'm left wondering why it has taken so long for Medtner to achieve the recognition he deserves.

Kayaleh and Stewart are sympathetic interpreters, as they were in the first volume, and again I am surprised that I had not heard Kayaleh before. She is quite a virtuoso, and very musical. I would love to hear more from this duo. Very fine booklet notes again by Paul Stewart.

Peter Grahame Woolf
Musical Pointers, March 2008

This is a notable discovery in the expanding Medtner discography. We are told that the Violin Sonata No. 1 is one of his best-known works, but I have never come across it, despite having a penchant for his music. I was taught his early Ein Idyll at boarding school, from where my piano teacher later took a group of us up to London to hear the great composer/pianist play his 3rd concerto and Beethoven's 4th (with an unforgettable Medtner cadenza) at the Royal Albert Hall. Later I acquired 78s of his music in the munificent Medtner Society recordings sponsored by the Maharajah of Mysore.

We have reviewed Medtner's piano music as recorded by Marc-André Hamelin and others, but these sonatas have proved revelatory. Violinists should certainly look out the first, which is suitable for inclusion in any recital, running at c. 20 mins, with movements enticingly titled Canzona: Canterellando con fluidezza; Danza: Allegro scherzando and Ditirambo: Festivamente. The other here is a massive 42 mins work in three main movements, the central one a set of variations.

This Canadian duo offers an ideal partnership with expressive, unshowy virtuosity and ideal recorded balance at McGill Univesity, Montreal. It leaves me eager to get the earlier release, Sonata No. 3 on Naxos 8.570298.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

Last August I was welcomed the first of the two discs that would contain the complete violin music of the Russian composer, Nikolay Medtner. In his younger years he had been described by Rachmaninov as ‘the greatest composer of our time’, probably a slight exaggeration though it measured the high regard in which he was held by his contemporaries. A few years later his life was to be turned upside down when, at the age of thirty-seven, he found his wealth taken from him by the Revolution of 1917. He was allowed to leave Russia in 1921 eventually arriving in England where he and his wife found refuge and the beginning of a new life. Yet musically he was to live in a time-warp, his soul still in Russia and unable to unlock itself so as to move forward with the quickly changing styles of composition. He found champions for his piano works, but we know almost nothing of his music for violin and piano, three massive sonatas being at the centre of a meagre output. All are symphonic in length and proportion, the present release containing the first and second. The First dates from 1911 and was in happier times taking ts theme from the myth of Dionysus and Bacchus, the result being a score of sensuality and happiness. That he revised the work was revealed in a recording made by the composer at the piano in 1947, those changes to the printed score incorporated in this recording. The Second - which lasts over 40 minutes - is in three movements, the extended central movement in the form of a theme and variations. It was completed in the nomadic period prior to his life in England, and is regarded as his finest work in the genre. On this disc the sonatas are separated by the Two Canzonas and Dances, music in a much lighter mood. Laurence Kayaleh is both technically and emotionally very much in command of the music, her intonation, pacing and beauty of tone all of the highest standard. Medtner was an outstanding pianist and here he gives more than an equal share to the keyboard, Paul Stewart a weighty and responsive partner. The sound, as with the first disc, is of admirable quality.

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