One of Medtner’s projects that remained unrealized at the time of his death was to record the 'Sonata Romantica', Op 53 No 1. Composed in 1930 in Paris, and first performed by the composer in Glasgow the following year, this was the twelfth of his fourteen piano sonatas. Not only its title but also the expressive content of its four movements, played without a break, make it virtually a manifesto for Medtner’s art. Cast in B flat minor—a favourite key for Chopin, Tchaikovsky and Balakirev, as well as being adopted by Rachmaninov for his second sonata—the opening Romanza soon engulfs its lyrical impulse in troubled swirls of figuration (the score is peppered with agitato and tranquillo markings). Following the pattern of Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata, the scherzo then goes another step flatwards, to E flat minor. Here the commonest marking is leggiero (lightly), offsetting the pesante opening and the tumultuoso climax. The Meditazione is no less exacting in its demands—espressivo ma semplice, legatissimo, sordamente (muted) as well as una corda all appear in the first bar. The main character of this slow movement is the gentle lilt imparted by dotted rhythmic figures, making it a close cousin to the second theme in the first movement of Rachmaninov’s second sonata. If Medtner’s finale at first seems rather less personal in its thematic invention, that is partly because its strategy will be to combine its own material with recalls of the previous movements, in an almost obsessive-compulsive tying together of threads.
from notes by David Fanning © 2014