It’s tempting to dismiss Nikolai Medtner without having heard a note of his music. Those who dismiss him as a less flamboyant Rachmaninov contemporary are making a huge mistake. Prokofiev enjoyed playing Medtner’s piano sonatas, and Rachmaninov once described his friend as the greatest of living composers. Post-Revolution, Rachmaninov eventually settled in the US and spent his final days in glamorous Beverly Hills. Poor Medtner ended up in a semi-detached house in suburban Golders Green, dying there in 1951. Become a Medtner fan and you’ll veer between wanting to shout out his music’s praises to anyone who’ll listen and preferring to keep its pleasures a closely guarded secret. Alessandro Taverna gives us three of the sonatas, and his calm, unflashy playing presents them in the best possible light. Two are single movement works. Taverna excels in the Sonata Reminiscenza‘s magical opening. Medtner’s bewilderingly simple theme could be an updated Bach prelude, though the music very quickly grows in complexity and emotional depth. The faster central section is riveting.
Medtner: Piano Sonatas Alessandro Taverna (Somm)
We get the more expansive four movement Sonata Romantica. Again, there’s the wistful nostalgia, the clarity of line. Medtner wrote brilliantly for the left hand; Taverna, aided by Somm’s engineering, lets us hear everything. It has a brilliantly fiery scherzo, the metrical changes anticipating those in Rachmaninov’s late music. The sonata’s downbeat ending is terrific. Darkness pervades much of the aptly named Sonata Minacciosa, though the demons are vanquished in an exhilarating coda. Taverna also plays Medtner’s delectable miniature Ein Idyll. Hopefully he’ll give us a follow-up before long.
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