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Sonata in E minor 'Night Wind', Op 25 No 2

'Medtner: The Complete Piano Sonatas' (CDA67221/4)
Medtner: The Complete Piano Sonatas
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Movement 1: Introduzione: Andante – Allegro
Track 5 on CDA67221/4 CD2 [18'49] 4CDs for the price of 3
Movement 2: Allegro molto sfrenatamente, presto
Track 6 on CDA67221/4 CD2 [14'32] 4CDs for the price of 3

Sonata in E minor 'Night Wind', Op 25 No 2
Misleadingly appearing from its numbering to be a mere appendage to the modestly scaled Sonata-Skazka, Medtner’s Sonata in E minor is in fact the composer’s most extended work in the genre, a monumental epic which taxes to the full the capacities of performer and listener alike and which some have claimed to be the greatest piano sonata of the twentieth century. It is headed by an epigraph from Tyutchev’s poem Silentium, in which the poet sees chaos as man’s natural inheritance:

What are you wailing about, night wind, what are you bemoaning with such fury? What does your strange voice mean, now indistinct and plaintive, now loud? In a language intelligible to the heart you speak of torment past understanding, and you moan and at times stir up frenzied sounds in the heart!
Oh, do not sing those fearful songs about primeval native Chaos! How avidly the world of the soul at night listens to its favourite story! It strains to burst out of the mortal breast and longs to merge with the Infinite … Oh, do not wake the sleeping tempests; beneath them Chaos stirs!

The sonata divides into two thematically linked Allegro movements, their general character seemingly corres­ponding to the two stanzas of the poem. The first movement—perhaps the most extended piece of music in 15/8 time in existence—is in sonata form, its structural divisions indicated by the repeated descending triplet figure with which the work opens, like a call to attention. The second movement, a massive free improvisation on the material of the sonata’s introduction, rushes along in headlong torrent, pushing the expressive resources of the piano to the limit. There is little respite from the night­marish frenzy, for even in the interludes an undercurrent of anxiety is always present. Eventually the coda is reached; fragments of all the themes are heard over a tonic pedal and the scene of chaos gradually fades from view, the music at last vanishing into thin air with two swirling arpeggios.

from notes by Barrie Martyn © 1998

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