MEDTNER Piano Sonatas
Medtner is a ‘marmite’ composer. Even some fervent pianophiles struggle, especially on a first hearing, with the profusion of ideas presented in apparently rambling structures. With closer scrutiny and longer acquaintance, his organic, neo-Brahmsian approach to composition reveals itself with rewarding results. The grand scale and imposing architecture of the Reminiscenza, Romantica and Minacciosa sonatas (Nos 10, 12 and 13) – all, in effect, single-movement works with an array of thematic cross-references – are superbly grasped by the Italian Alessandro Taverna (b1983, first prize at the Minnesota, third prize at the Leeds 2009 competitions). He’s a fine pianist with good fingers; but, comparing him to the very highest level, one cannot overlook the fact that he tends to skate over details and generalise dynamics.
Just take one of the movements: the Scherzo from the Sonata romantica, surely one of Medtner’s most inspired 14 pages and certainly among the most technically challenging. This rollercoaster ride of dizzying right-hand passagework and eruptive syncopation veers between tumultuous onslaught and utmost delicacy. Medtner is very precise with his instructions. It’s marked presto leggiero (ma sempre marcato, molto ritmico e al rigore). Taverna takes it at a creditable allegro vivace (5'04"); Hamelin, at a barely credible 4'27", manages not only to dispatch it all with greater clarity and rhythmic élan but also with more precisely differentiated ppp and pp, as well as observing the strepitoso, tumultuoso and minaccioso (‘threatening’) requests, and hammering home the frequent sforzandos to thrilling effect. It leaves the breathless listener asking how on earth he does it. But make no mistake: if you had not heard Hamelin, you would rightly applaud Taverna who, in this first-class recording (Siva Oke and Paul Arden-Taylor), with its thought-provoking booklet (Robert Matthew-Walker), is well worth hearing.