The dedication of the Three Pieces Op 31 to the memory of Alexei Stanchinsky refers most specifically to second piece, the Funeral March for the supremely gifted young composer who had died in 1914 at the age of twenty-six. But the most substantial of the three pieces is the Improvisation in B flat minor (in variation form), subsequently known as the First Improvisation to distinguish it from the Second Improvisation, Op 47, of 1928. The twilit theme is quintessentially Medtnerian, of utmost simplicity but rhythmically supple and unpredictable. There follow five variations bursting with fantasy and pianistic ingenuity, at one point breaking into a joyous Russian hymn in B flat major. Medtner’s own performance, recorded under the bizarre patronage of an Indian Maharajah, is one of the finest in that priceless legacy.
from notes by Hamish Milne © 2012