Hyperion Records

Zwei Elegien, Op 59

'Medtner: Arabesques, Dithyrambs, Elegies & other short piano works' (CDA67851/2)
Medtner: Arabesques, Dithyrambs, Elegies & other short piano works
No 1: Andante largamento
No 2: Andante con moto

Zwei Elegien, Op 59
The financial circumstances of the Medtners, who had moved from France to England in 1936, had been far from rosy ever since they left Russia in 1921, but in the early years of the Second World War they reached a new nadir as concerts were cancelled and income from his German publisher ceased to exist. In 1940 they were invited to stay in Warwickshire with the family of his most devoted pupil and champion, Edna Iles, and it was here that he completed his last work for solo piano, the Two Elegies Op 59. It is tempting to speculate that their dire circumstances lie behind the bleak mood of these pieces, which could equally be attributed to the still recent death of his brother Emil. In either case, it would be wise to remember that Medtner worked at the same time on the rumbustious Russian Round-Dance for two pianos, Op 58 No 1, and his radiant and ultimately optimistic Third Piano Concerto, Op 60. As with the two Skazki Op 8, both Elegies open with the same motto theme, but thereafter their mood is somewhat different. The first is an almost unrelieved cry of anguish where even the consolatory second theme is short lived. At its conclusion, the fluttering run (diminuendo) to the top of the keyboard probably depicts the soul leaving the body, much as Alfred Cortot observed at the conclusion of Chopin’s tragic Nocturne in C minor. Its companion, with its trudging gait, suggests a more philosophical world-weariness and even offers a ray of hope with its shining final chord of E flat major. Medtner’s biographer Barrie Martyn rated them ‘among the composer’s finest creations’; certainly they show Medtner at his most deeply expressive, harnessing his by now flawless command of harmony, counterpoint and form with apparently effortless mastery. He once said: ‘Inspiration comes when thought is saturated in emotion, and emotion is imbued with sense.’

from notes by Hamish Milne © 2012

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