Medtner sonatas for piano op. 22&25.

Adam Fellegi, piano.

There's a lot to be said about these three pieces. The 5th sonata begins with an uneasy introduction whose theme, much changed, will reappear; Fellegi plays this somewhat prosaically compared to, say, Gilels on Melodiya/CBS LP. There follows a compact sonata-movement with three main groups, in g minor, B-flat major, and d minor. The exposition is followed by a brief development that stops expectantly, after a frenetic, tingling climax. Cue for a funereal section in f minor, whose main theme is derived from the first group. This section ends on quiet F major chords which lead to a recapitulation, opening in a minor but regaining g minor with the brief but emotionally fraught coda.

That's a bare description for a brief but powerful piece of music. Fellegi plays with far more forward impetus and feeling of exhiliration than does Tozer on a rival Chandos recording; Tozer seems to mistake slow tempos, with nothing carrying one note forward into the next, for depth, and in consequence his recording becomes deeply annoying. Only at one moment, near the beginning of the coda, is Tozer definitely preferable. I haven't as yet heard other recordings by Ponti, Madge, and others, and expect that Hamelin's recording on Hyperion, when it comes out (for he has announced the intention to record all the sonatas), will trump Tozer and Fellegi both.

(Addendum Mar 13 2001 (it's been about three years since I originally wrote this.) I've now heard parts of the Hamelin set broadcast but not yet, I don't think, the g minor sonata. I need to either buy it or get over to the library, still.)

The sixth sonata, unlike the other two here, is in more than one movement- three, in fact, though the second leads to the third without a break, and the second is born in the dying echos of the concluding chords of the first. The first movement's main theme has two important components, one wistful, one more active with repeated notes. It ends loudly in C major. The second movement follows with a tune closely-related to the famous E-flat tune from Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, and is in the same key- most shameless of Medtner.

Before being too harsh in our condemnation, however, it behooves us to consider the mitigating evidence that Medtner's work was written and published some thirty-odd years before the Rachmaninoff.

The final, emotional outburst of this slow movement is followed by the finale, a minatory c minor march. At the end, themes from the first and second movements reappear and are reinterpreted, and all ends sadly.

The seventh sonata, in e minor and nicknamed The Night Wind (after Tyutchev, some of whose poems were also set by Medtner as songs), is many things. At over thirty minutes in Fellegi's performance and in a single movement, it's a dare; as Sorabji recognized, though, it's also a musical accomplishment of the highest order. It does, however, take several hearings for its coherence of logic and spirit to come into focus - for it to start sounding like one musical drama rather than a mishmosh of single-movement sonata form and several-movements-in-one form. Rest assured, the composer's control is in fact sure - nor is the work so over-controlled as to bore!

The work's general plan outlines basically as follows: introduction (e minor) - large exposition (ends in E-flat major (addendum March 13 2001- I now own a Dover edition of the rather complex and very interesting score and have no idea where I got that notion- perhaps from an _E_ major passage followed by several F minor chords...- say this anyhow, I've enjoyed this piece without quite "getting" its elaborate structure for some time now...); four main themes) - development - first scherzando - recapitulation of main theme - coda (including second scherzando). Of the themes, the first two begin with the descending third whose repetition comprises the introduction; the third theme is introduced by a transition in which a triple tap of bass notes is a prominent motive; and the fourth theme bears a remarkable similarity to a subsidiary theme from the rather later second violin sonata (the best of the three violin sonatas in my opinion, with a winning freshness; but I digress), being similarly arpeggiated chords in a quietly rocking rhythm.

A fifth theme- more a motif- appears after the E-flat chords ending the exposition have faded away. (This motif has some similarity to a theme in the composer's Sonata tragica, op. 39/5.) It soon becomes the basis for first, an inventive, brief fugato, then, a somewhat self-contained-sounding, invigorating (or perhaps desperate) scherzando. This comes to a climax, followed by a quiet, syncopated statement of the fifth theme, and, directly, the recapitulation of the first theme, somewhat changed (with a definite coda-beginning, "retrospective" feel about its continuation.) This leads in turn to the second scherzando, in context adequately macabre; and the final section, where a Medtner-patent arpeggio passage manages to communicate more than do some people's melodies. All then comes to an end.

Send email!
Go to my home page.