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James Harrington
American Record Guide, May 2009

Rachmaninoff was quite effusive in his support for the music of someone he considered a good friend: “Only Medtner has, from the beginning, published works that it would be hard for him to equal later in life.”…The Derzhavina set begins with Medtner’s Op. 1, an eight-piece set called Mood Pictures from 1897. Written by a 17-year-old, these are examples of a well-developed, mature compositional ability. They use a large vocabulary of romantic moods and styles and already place considerable technical difficulties on the pianist. These could have easily prompted the quote from Rachmaninoff. In all of my Medtner, this is the only recording of his Op. 1—and they are fabulous pieces, played exceptionally well by Derzhavina. So this disc is a must-have.

The Sonata Triade is an odd work consisting of three one-movement sonatas, the whole lasting 28 minutes…Derzhavina’s performance of this work compares well with the others, though it’s a little slower and a little less aggressive in the bigger virtuosic sections. But when it comes to projecting a beautiful legato melody, she is fully the equal of both Milne and Demidenko. Her Three Pieces, Op. 31 do not appear on any of my other recordings either. I found the middle ‘Marche Funebre’ quite unlike any other funeral march for the piano I have ever run into. Not really very march-like, but certainly funereal, its harmony and figurations have strong Eastern flavors, build to an imposing climax and then fade away.

The second disc is devoted to the first two sets of Forgotten Melodies (there are three). The first set, Op. 38, begins with the Sonata Reminiscenza and the second, Op. 39 ends with the Sonata Tragica…In between the two sonatas are 11 wonderful two-to-six-minute pieces…If you want to discover Medtner or just want him in smaller, less expensive doses, don’t hesitate to get…Derzhavina.

Peter J. Rabinowitz
Fanfare, May 2009

When Medtner died in 1951, his reputation, at least in the States, had nowhere to sink. The mainstream press, in particular, treated him with contempt. The New York Times obituary was insulting both in its brevity and in its content, closing out the discussion of his music with a comment by Olin Downes (dredged up from a 1924 review) that his music was “seldom distinguished by invention.” Harold Schonberg called his G-Minor Sonata “vapid”—and more generally, Medtner was treated as a value-subtracted composer, described in terms of what he lacked: Rachmaninoff without the brawn (as Irving Kolodin once put it), Scriabin without the ecstasy, Brahms without the quality. He had his advocates, of course, but what he really needed was a champion: not someone who could coax the thoughtful, but someone who could compel, even bully, the larger music-going public into recognizing the “invention” of the music.

Had she been born in 1917 rather than 1957, Russian pianist Ekaterina Derzhavina might well have been able to fulfill that role. These are big, affirmative performances, with a tight grip on the music’s gestures (try, as but one example, the marcato basso passage in m. 17 of op. 31/1) and a huge, bass-oriented sonority to drive home the climaxes. Listening to the way she piles into the recapitulation of the “Sonata tragica” that caps op. 39, you’d never call him vapid; and listening to the inner-voice conflicts in the development of the “Sonata-reminiscenza” that opens op. 38, you’d never call him uninventive. Everything here proclaims “Major Statement.”…It’s hard not to be taken with the fierce ecstasy of op. 11/1 or by the Scriabinesque obsessiveness in op. 39/1…the sound is excellent…

Jed Distler, March 2009

Ekaterina Derzhavina’s Palexa recording of the Medtner Op. 1 Stimmungsbilder improved as it progressed, culminating in strong, supple, and well-characterized accounts of the final four pieces. Her studio remake benefits from a superior instrument and world-class sonics, plus subtler layers of nuance and textural differentiation on the pianist’s part. Derzhavina’s generally robust and emphatic pianism convinces most when Medtner’s music takes on wistful, somber overtones, as in the D minor Sonata-Elegie, the Marche Funébre from the Op. 31 Three Pieces, and the first of the Op. 39 Forgotten Melodies.

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