MEDTNER: Contes and Poems – Yana Ivanilova, soprano/ Vassily Savinko, bass/ Boris Berezovsky, piano – Mirare 059, 67:12 ***** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:
Nikolai Medtner (1879-1951) was not prolific; he has only three piano concertos to his name (his only orchestral works), no symphonies, 14 piano sonatas, Three Nocturnes for violin and piano, three violin sonatas, Two Canzonas with Dances for violin and piano, a piano quintet, a number of sets of Tales (“contes”) for piano, and 106 songs of Russian and German poets. It is of the latter two categories that this remarkable recital draws its material.
And this is one fire-breathing album. I can’t recall in recent memory of hearing a recital so flushed with romantic passion. It’s not just Boris Berezovsky, the star of this show and a stormy player himself; it’s also the native language of Medtner, a fierce anti-modernist romantic who castigated the music of most of his contemporaries yet attracted much praise and help from Rachmaninoff and the lifelong devotion of Horowitz, who nonetheless thought Medtner’s music too confusing for the public. But why should that be? Scriabin is far more difficult to grasp for most people and Medtner’s luscious harmonies and potent melodic content is absolutely ideal for setting poets as disparate as Pushkin and Goethe.
On this disc the “Tales” are given in between the 17 selected songs, and the consequent stormy mix is just about as perfectly realized as one could ever wish for. Both singers dive into this music with a headlong abandon, caring little whether we as listeners are able to tolerate such unadulterated and unabashed fervency of spirit. All you can do is take a deep breath and hang on for what is one of the best albums so far this year, a brilliant and demonstrably perfect entry into the world of this composer, whose other works you will undoubtedly desire to explore after the last strains of this one die down. If you need some adventure n your life, here it is, and all others are invited also. Sound, by the way, is perfect. [For standard CD…Ed.]
1. Ya perejil svoï jelan’ia… (Mélodie No. 2 in E minor) 2. Conte No. 2 in E minor 3. Kon’ (Mélodie No. 4 in E flat minor) 4. Conte russe (Conte No. 1 in F minor) 5. Chto ty klonich nad vodami (Poème No. 2 in F sharp minor) 6. Voron (Mélodie No. 2 in G minor) 7. Vesinneï uskopoïénié (Poème No. 5 in E flat major) 8. La Marche du Paladin (Conte No. 2 in E minor) 9. Chanson d’Ophélie (Conte No. 1 in E minor) 10. Conte No. 4 in C sharp minor 11. Conte de la Danse (Conte No. 2 in G minor) 12. Elfingesang (Mélodie No. 3 in F sharp minor) 13. Lieb’ Liebchin (Mélodie No. 1 in B flat minor) 14. Liebliches Kind, estrait de Claudine von Villa-Bella Mélodie No. 5 in E flat major 15. Din i notch (Poème No. 1 in E flat major) 16. U vrat obiteli sviatoï… (Mélodie No. 1 in F minor) 17. Soumerki (Poème No. 4 in F minor) 18. Chopot, robkoïé dykhan’ié (Poème No. 7 in G flat major) 19. Tsvetok (Mélodie No. 2 in E minor) 20. Davno l’ pod volchebnye zvouki… (Poème No. 4 in F minor) 21. Conte No. 2 in E flat major 22. Bessonnitsa (Poème No. 1 in E flat minor) 23. Zaklinanié 24. Campanella (Conte No. 2 in B minor)
— Steven Ritter