MEDTNER; RACHMANINOV Piano Concertos
It is partly the constantly changing and complex rhythms that have contributed to the comparative neglect of Medtner’s three piano concertos. That, their rhapsodic nature and the lack of memorable melodies. Australian-born, London-based Jayson Gillham confesses that he and the Melbourne orchestra did not know the C minor Concerto before being asked to learn it for a documentary which would follow ‘my journey as I prepared, performed and then recorded the work. This recording’, he tells us, ‘is the culmination of that process.’
Very fine it is, too, with tempos pretty close to the composer’s recording, and, so far as I can see, the only version coupled with Rachmaninov’s C minor currently available. I’m surprised it is not done more often. I am also surprised that the booklet note on the concerto by the pianist Dmitri Alexeev is word-for-word the same essay (slightly shortened) that he wrote for his own 1994 recording of the work for Hyperion (3/95).
If a sequence of two concertos in the same key should concern you, Jayson Gillham has inserted a ‘Prologue’ (in E major), the opening number of Acht Stimmungsbilder, Medtner’s first published work (1897). The score quotes the opening lines of Lermontov’s poem ‘The Angel’ which the composer later set for voice and piano using the same melody.
Turning to the ubiquitous and
much-loved C minor Concerto of Rachmaninov, Gillham offers a perfectly respectable but ultimately unremarkable account, closer in tempos to the young Ashkenazy and Kondrashin than to the faster composer or, by contrast, Richter. There is a well-judged balance between soloist and orchestra, allowing us to hear some of the piano’s passagework with uncommon clarity. The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra are also fine but not yet world class, and I found the nasal trumpets unattractively assertive. Gillham ends the disc with Rachmaninov’s sublime nocturne-like D major Prelude, beautifully done, as one would expect from a pupil of Christopher Elton.