Caspar Vos: Ego
How refreshing to find a pianist choosing Medtner for his debut CD. And this is clearly no casual decision, for the Dutch musician Caspar Vos talks in his notes about having started ‘to fiddle … with certain passages’ in the epic Night Wind Sonata, Op 25 No 2, while still quite young. He adds that he feels a kinship with the composer’s personality, and that certainly comes over in the pieces performed here, his Steinway warmly recorded.
Well, that fiddling paid off, for his Night Wind is quite something. It’s a work that can be tricky to elucidate, consisting of two conjoined movements that unfold over a large time-span and where intensity is married to extreme virtuosity in places. Vos has a wide colour palette, which he reveals in the Andante introduction. He also – crucially – finds a clarity to the textures that helps guide the listener through the work. If he can’t quite match Marc-André Hamelin in sheer characterisation, Vos still conveys the sense of surge and repose, mystery and exaltation that is such a hallmark of this composer.
In the other Op 25 work, the Sonata Skazka, Vos brings out the first movement’s changeability, positively relishing the staccato repeated-note figuration at 4'32". But in his attempt to bring out the abundant beauty of the Andantino con moto, he chooses a tempo that is simply unsustainable and toys with the melodic line to distraction. How much more effective is Hamelin, at a naturally flowing speed. The finale, happily, comes across much more convincingly, Vos capturing both the proudly strutting Allegro and its more inward moments.
In between we get the Op 26 Skazki, of which the Molto vivace second piece is a particular highlight, with Vos enjoying the delicacy of the high-lying writing. In the third he perhaps misses the simplicity that Hamish Milne conveys so innately, though here it’s worth hearing Medtner himself – his 1936 recording finds a perfect balance of songful melody, contrasting with the Più mosso writing, while the composer’s earlier account is freer, possibly too much so for modern ears. In the fourth piece, again it is Milne who finds a greater sense of inevitability, though Vos brings out its constantly changing moods with flair and clear affection.