A New Medtner Cycle Launched

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

Paul Stewart has nearly everything it takes to play Medtner’s music well: a suave and supple technique, sensitivity to nuance, and a perpetually beautiful, singing sonority. These qualities consistently come across in his first volume of a projected Medtner sonata cycle, and you cannot help but admire Stewart’s clarity and conviction, whether in sustained, lyrical playing or making light of the music’s polytextural bravura. Yet time and again I find that Marc-André Hamelin’s more precise attention to detail yields more memorable and strongly characterized interpretations. A few comparisons ought to illuminate what I mean.

In the F minor sonata third-movement Largo divoto, for example, Stewart’s flexible phrasing focuses on the melody, and he makes a small yet noticeable accelerando at the più forte in the fifth bar, while generally downplaying the funeral-march-like left-hand octaves. By contrast, Hamelin is not so much slower than stricter, and his rhythmic precision generates a more palpable sense of stillness and tension that pays off when the music gradually begins to grow more agitated. In Stewart’s more generalized interpretation, the change of character is less apparent.

The Sonata-Reminiscenza’s simple espressivo opening finds Stewart rather generically rounding off certain cadences within the right hand’s long legato lines, in contrast to the sharper specificity of Hamelin’s literal accentuations. The late Geoffrey Tozer’s altogether faster tempo and freer pedaling help underline this section’s melodic asymmetry, while Gregori Ginsburg’s ruminative poetry creates the strongest sense of an unfolding narrative.

This is not to disparage Stewart’s obvious mastery and authority in this repertoire, and it will be interesting to follow this cycle as it appears. And while we’re on the subject, let me remind collectors of Stewart’s marvelous, assured pianism throughout Naxos’ complete cycle of Medtner’s violin works featuring Laurence Kayaleh.



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Recording Details:

Album Title: MEDTNER: COMPLETE PIANO SONATAS, VOL. 1
Reference Recording: Hamelin (Hyperion)

  • MEDTNER, NIKOLAI:
    Sonatina in G minor (1898); Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor Op. 5; Sonata-Reminiscenza in A minor Op. 38 No. 1

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