The Strad Issue: January 2008
Musicians: Laurence Kayaleh (violin) Paul Stewart (piano)
Composer: Medtner

One of the greatest admirers of Nikolai Medtner (1880–1951) was Rachmaninoff, who recognised his colleague’s formal tautness, deep Russian sensibility and exile’s nostalgia, something they shared when living abroad after the Revolution dispossessed them. These are, by and large, compelling performances. As with Naxos’s first Medtner violin and piano disc, one can sense the qualities Rachmaninoff so admired in his friend’s music.

Medtner’s Second Sonata, grandly conceived and spanning over 40 minutes, is his ‘Spring’ sonata. It evinces longing memories of his native land and was written, like his lighter Canzonas with Dances, when he was touring Europe and America. He prefaces it with a nostalgic poem by the Russian romantic poet Fyodor Tyuchev (1803–73) which was also set by Rachmaninoff.

In this later sonata (premiered in 1927) these well-paired and spirited performers come into their own. They ably get to grips with the broad span and the expressive detail of this spaciously conceived major work. Laurence Kayaleh has a sweet tone and an attractive gift of lucidly defining a melody (some lithe triplets, for instance) over sequences of intricate double-stopping. Paul Stewart’s rather generous use of the sustaining pedal slightly detracts from the B minor Sonata of 1910–11 (though its hint of the tango midway is beguiling), but overall proves an admirable equal partner, well abreast of the quite taxing demands of both sonatas.

The Canzonas with Dances (two of each) are delightfully buoyant: one evinces a pleasing nonchalance, another an impish folk quality. The amusingly hesitant First Canzona feels just a fraction too tame. Naxos’s engineers in Canada have balanced the two players pretty well.   

Roderic Dunnett