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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67491/2
Recording details: October 2006
Henry Wood Hall, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Tony Faulkner
Release date: April 2007
Total duration: 17 minutes 1 seconds

'They're among [Medtner's] characteristic utterances and include many of his finest inspirations. Some are simply masterpieces … it's excellent to have a complete collection from Hamish Milne, one of our leading Medtnerians, as a welcome counterpart to Marc-André Hamelin's complete Sonatas, also on Hyperion. Milne is in complete technical and expressive command, bringing to them the fleetness and rhythmic spring, the varied character and wit, that all Medtner's music needs. He crests the summists of their virtuosity with such ease one can concentrate throughout on the music, not the pianist, as Medtner intended … he expounds the composer's thought with complete identification and sympathy' (BBC Music Magazine)

'From the very first of these skazki ('tales'), I was hooked. Much of this is to do with the advocacy of Hamish Milne, who has already recorded some of this repertoire for the CRD label, is regarded by many as the composer's greatest living champion and, as his booklet note emphasises, is determined to see through the prejudice that has dogged the composer's reputation since his death in 1951. His playing has the muscularity to cope with Medtner's often challenging rhythmic writing—listen to the bracing 'Dance Tale' from Op 48 of 1925—while this vigour is counterbalanced by a sensitivity to the music's poetry and lyricism. Indeed, his sympathy for Medtner's ever-amenable style—echoing Rachmaninov and Debussy at times—ensures that the ear is constantly engaged' (The Daily Telegraph)

'This is a major, important release … Milne has been recording Medtner for quite some time now … and his detailed and very well written booklet notes are on the same high level as his pianism … no-one plays these musical Tales as well as Hamish Milne' (American Record Guide)

'Hamish Milne's performances maintain a high level of consistency, presenting Medtner's ideas with great clarity. His playing has a crispness and rhythmic vitality that serves the music well. Medtner's various moods are all capably handled … an impressive achievement and eminently recommendable recording … recorded sound is up to Hyperion's usual excellent standards' (International Record Review)

'The 38 Skazki are the most important piano miniatures that Nikolay Medtner composed … there's something discursive and fantastical about these pieces; intensely conservative, Medtner's musical language was always rooted in late 19th-century romanticism, the world that his contemporary and friend Rachmaninov fashioned into a distinctive personal style, but which Medtner preserved almost intact. Yet his piano writing is vivid and superbly idiomatic; there are wonderful things in these Skazki, which are inspired by a wide range of literary sources, from Goethe and Shakespeare (King Lear and Hamlet) to Pushkin and Russian folklore … Hamish Milne is a wonderful guide to this world—his performances are both technically outstanding and musically penetrating' (The Guardian)

'Each one a unique gem of beguiling invention. Notoriously difficult to bring off, Hamish Milne makes some of the most exacting pages in the repertoire sound glorious' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Medtner was sometimes chided for lacking focus, but there's nothing diffuse in these clean-cut and formally lucid readings, which manage to present a wealth of boldly delineated detail without ever obscuring the music's overall trajectories. We're certainly unlikely to get a better complete run of the Skazki in the foreseeable future. Strongly recommended … a revelation: music of fantasy and individuality, and played by Milne with devotion' (Fanfare, USA)

'Milne has recorded many epoch-making Medtner discs and his new collection of the complete Skazki stands out as his finest to date. The richness of ideas and the overwhelming range of expression is Medtner at his finest. Milne eclipses Geoffrey Tozer in his otherwise brilliant Chandos recording and I cannot think of a pianist today who can better this' (Pianist)

'Milne's is a sincere and personal journey, as Medtner's undoubtedly was; the sound is fresh and unfussy, and Milne's own notes perspicuous and heartfelt' (International Piano)

'Completed by flawless recording quality—immediate, vivid and truthful, but never oppressive (dynamics are faithfully captured)—this is a quite outstanding and revelatory issue' (ClassicalSource.com)

Skazki, Op 34
composer

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Medtner sustained an extraordinary degree of invention, variety, craftsmanship, and sheer musical worth throughout the entire collection of Skazki but perhaps the set of four Skazki Op 34 can be singled out for special acclaim. Not only does it exemplify all the qualities already mentioned but it offers an additional fascination in that Medtner was here unusually forthcoming in divulging his literary sources.

To Op 34 No 1 he gave the title The Magic Violin. Although unattributed in the score, it seems likely that this comes from a poem of the same name by Nikolai Gumilev (1886–1921) in which the poet implores a child not to succumb to the seductive violin which will unleash all kinds of horrors upon him through its magic. Certainly, the sinuous lines of the recurring waltz-theme and the increasingly violent interludes seem in tune with this supposition. Although Medtner described Op 34 No 2 to friends as ‘a tale told by a river bank’ (easily discernible in the rippling currents of the left hand), by quoting from Tyutchev’s mystical poem Peace (‘… what we once called ours is gone for ever’), he suggests deeper thoughts about the ephemerality of existence, no less. Above Op 34 No 3, Medtner simply wrote ‘Wood spirit (but a kind, plaintive one)’. According to his Canadian pupil and disciple Bernard Pinsonneault he amplified this, saying with a smile: ‘He’s a highly capricious sorcerer who does a thousand magic tricks, conjures up all kind of strange creatures and launches multicoloured arabesques from his fingers; he’s a grimacing sorcerer but … he is never wicked.’ His grimaces reveal that the gulf between Medtner and Prokofiev was not as wide as either of them imagined. Op 34 No 4 bears a quotation from Pushkin: ‘… there lived once a poor knight’. Pushkin’s poem has a special resonance in the Russian psyche. Friends relate that Dostoyevsky had tears in his eyes when reading it to his children and it has been often cited as the inspiration for Prince Mishka in his novel The Idiot. Jungians interpret the character as a prototype of the creative artist, others as anti-hero. The poem tells of a knight in Palestine who worships the Virgin Mary, renouncing not only all other women but also the Holy Trinity. When, on his deathbed many years later, he is about to be dragged to hell by demons for this blasphemy, the Blessed Virgin herself intervenes and bears him aloft. The music is of an extraordinarily exalted piety and, at the moment of his transfiguration, truly inspirational, as its sombre strains transmute into a radiant D major melange of prayers, bells and angel trumpets. At this point Medtner confessed to being inspired by the sublime transition from the desolation of the Largo e mesto in Beethoven’s Piano Sonata Op 10 No 3 to the sunlit D major of the succeeding Menuetto.

from notes by Hamish Milne © 2007

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