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Medtner/Rachmaninov: Music for two pianos

Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951) Knight Errant: Russian Round-Dance 'A Tale'

Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943) Suite No 2, Op 17; Russian Rhapsody, Op posth.; Symphonic Dances, Op 45

Dmitri Alexeev (piano), Nikolai Demidenko (piano)

Hyperion Helios: CDH55337

A famous recording welcome back for those who missed it first time round.

The programme (and a nice cover set of images) celebrates the friendship between these composers. Did they ever play their two piano music together? If so, an addition to the excellent Medtner page on Wikipedia would be desirable.

I have had a special corner for Medtner since my piano teacher took us up to London to hear him play at the Albert Hall and I acquired the Medtner Society 78s sponsored by the Maharajah of Mysore.*

How do you listen? We often sample discs for review on quite modest equipment in the kitchen/diner... Usually one can extrapolate confidently to how it will sound on the hi-fi. This one sounded rather congested, two pianists playing so many notes together can be overwhelming, and two-piano is far from a favourite performing medium of ours.

However, checking on good earphones and on the best audio system in the house (regrettably, we don't have SACD or the latest expensive goodies advertised, but probably you too don't) we verified the many exceptional rave reviews for this disc on its earlier release. Yes it is indeed superb playing and recording (Snape, 1993, Philip Hobbs) and is worth acquiring for the Medtner pieces and the lesser known early Russian Rhapsody of Rachmaninov. I prefer the orchestral version of the Symphonic Dances.

Peter Grahame Woolf

* Some interesting background: [Interview with pianist Paul Stewart] - - Medtner waited until his parents had died and his brother had divorced before marrying Anna in 1918. The couple was able to leave Russia only in 1921 and with the exception of a tour in 1927, was never to return. Unfortunately, musical tastes had turned away from the Romantic era by then, and Medtner was considered to be from the old school.

Although Rachmaninoff secured a tour of North America in 1924 for Medtner, who played his own works exclusively, Medtner never took to touring and giving concerts; he eventually settled in London to a life of teaching, playing and composing. He was very outspoken against modern music and in 1935 published the treatise The Muse and The Fashion, a defence of the foundation of the Art of Music. “He couldn’t bear Richard Strauss and he criticized people too often,” said Stewart. “When the Second World War came, his music was forgotten.” His German publishers disappeared and not only did his income dry up, but his music was no longer available.

Medtner’s fortunes seemed to pick up following the difficult war years when, in 1946, the Maharaja of Mysore became a patron to Medtner and in 1949 founded a Medtner Society in London to record all of Medtner’s works. Despite his failing health, Medtner recorded his three piano concertos, as well as his sonatas, chamber music, numerous songs and shorter works. “The bad luck was that the recordings were issued in 78s and by the 1950s the 78 was on its way out and those recordings became difficult to find,” said Stewart. The composer died in London in 1951 and is buried with his brother Emil in Hendon. Anna returned to Russia with all his manuscripts and scores, and the completed works – which are still hard to find – were published in Russia in the 1960s.