The Theme and variations in C sharp minor Op 55 is a kind of pendant to the Romantic Sketches for the Young, Op 54, which the publisher Zimmermann had requested in the hope of generating increased sales for his aloof and recondite protégé. Although Medtner undertook the task with some reluctance, he didn’t stint on his skills of craftsmanship in its execution. The theme is a slightly prim minuet in ‘ancient style’ albeit with a few of the composer’s subtle harmonic twists. The variations follow the classical mould in as much as they clearly trace the melodic and harmonic outline of the theme as a template (as opposed to the more free variations in the two Improvisations, Op 31 No 1 and Op 47). This fastidious approach does not preclude the introduction of a deeper and more philosophical note in an eloquent passacaglia (Variation 5), redolent of the hymns of the Russian Orthodox church which are increasingly evident in Medtner’s later works.
from notes by Hamish Milne © 2012