P0135. NICOLAS MEDTNER: THE 1936 & 1946 HMV RECORDINGS, all Played by the Composer; w.CECILIA HANSEN: Violin Sonata #1 in b. (England) Appian APR 5547, recorded by HMV, 1936-46. Transfers by Bryan Crimp. Very long out-of-print, Final Copy! - 5024709155477
“Like many other pianists, Medtner began his recording career in the studios of the reproducing piano companies, cutting fifteen rolls for Welte-Mignon in Germany in 1922 and in 1925 another four for Duo-Art in New York. Then, in November 1928, during the course of his second visit to Britain, he made three test gramophone records for Columbia, returning for sessions in March 1930 and February 1931 to record a series of his own compositions, including three of his songs, sung by the soprano Tatiana Makushina, with whom he had given his first London recital in February 1928.
Medtner seems never properly to have understood the terms under which he made these Columbia recordings. He thought them very successful but, much to his bewilderment and disgust, none was ever published. He never discovered the reason why, though the catastrophic decline in record sales as a result of the Great Depression and the consequent forced merger in June 1931 of Columbia and the Gramophone Company to form EMI were doubtless contributory factors in the nonappearance of what would have seemed at the time highly adventurous and unprofitable repertoire.
EMI made amends for the composer's earlier disappointment when, in the spring of1936, he remade for HMV most, though not all, of the items abortively recorded for Columbia five and six years before; they were published as a six-record album. Unsurprisingly, the performances are remarkably similar.
A decade was to pass before Medtner again entered the gramophone studio. In October 1946 he recorded two pieces of his own, the ‘Russian Round Dance’ (with Moiseiwitsch) and the Improvisation, Op 31, and in the following month Beethoven's ‘Appassionata’ Sonata. Despite his fragile health, he was at this time considering making another concert tour of the United States in order to revive his precarious finances, but happily an entirely unexpected, not to say miraculous, event made this hazardous undertaking unnecessary.
Before the war, the son of an Indian potentate, the Maharaja of Mysore, a connoisseur of western music generally and of Russian music in particular happened, so the story goes, to be listening to his sister playing some unfamiliar piano music. Profoundly impressed, he enquired who was the composer; it was Medtner. He decided immediately that, when circumstances permitted, he would get the evidently unjustifiably neglected composer's music recorded in order to make it available to the public at large. Accordingly, in 1946, having by now succeeded to his father s title and wealth, he set his scheme in motion, sponsoring the establishment of a Medtner Society, to make it possible for the weakened and ageing composer to record as many of his works as he wished, before it was too late.
The bulk of Medtner's consequent activity in the studio took place during 1947, with recordings of the three concertos (with the Philharmonia under Dobrowen and Weldon), two of the piano sonatas, the First Violin Sonata (with Cecilia Hansen), the Sonata-Vocalise (with Margaret Ritchie), and a cross-section of the shorter piano pieces and of the songs (with Oda Slobodskaya and Tatiana Makushina). The composer then broke off in order to complete the writing of his Piano Quintet, a work of special significance to him, which he was able to record in November 1949. There were two final sessions in the autumn of 1950, when he recorded fourteen of his songs with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
In some respects the Maharaja's munificent gesture proved ill-starred, for the recordings were made in the dying years of the old 78 rpm format and, as Medtner himself feared would be the case, with the arrival of LP records they soon ceased to be available. Moreover, by no means all of them were published, and those that were have only recently been reinstated in the domestic catalogue, after nearly half a century, so inhibiting the dissemination of the composer's work that was the original raison d'etre of the whole enterprise. Even so, despite its past neglect, Medtner's recorded legacy, like Rachmaninov's, is of priceless value, not only because it enshrines the playing of a remarkable pianist but because it provides documentary evidence, over and above the instructions on the printed page, of just how a composer envisaged his own music's ideal realisation.”
- Martyn Barrie