It was Medtner’s lifelong friend and admirer Sergei Rachmaninov who famously remarked: ‘Only Medtner has, from the beginning, published works that it would be hard for him to equal in later life.’ The first pair of Skazki
, Op 8, finds Medtner already at the height of his powers. Immediately striking is their use of a common motto to open and close both pieces. This sort of thing raises alarm in the analytically minded but, according to Medtner, is of no great significance; but it does make the pair uncommonly effective when performed in tandem. This idiosyncrasy apart, the two could hardly be more disparate in character. Some dark shadows notwithstanding, the first, alternately gnomic and lyrical, does nothing to forewarn us of the violence to follow. This second piece, Op 8 No 2, is one of Medtner’s masterpieces, a sonata movement of formidable complexity and panache. All his prodigious and precocious skills of form and content, rhythm and harmony, motif and melody are displayed with flawless mastery and pianistic ingenuity. Some of the expression marks—pleading, chaotic, suffocated, threatening—suggest (unusually for Medtner) an almost Scriabinesque frenzy. This was as ‘modern’ as he ever got—and at twenty-five years of age.
from notes by Hamish Milne © 2007