Solo Piano Works of Nikolai Medtner, Vol. 1
2021 / Centaur
Review by Kathy Parsons
Solo Piano Works of Nikolai Medtner, Vol. 1 is the first in a series of nine albums/CDs performed by Dr. Frank Huang, the first artist to record the complete solo piano works of this lesser-known Russian composer. Medtner (1880-1951) was a close friend of Sergei Rachmaninoff for much of his life, but was not nearly as well-known, eschewing the more commercial aspect of touring and promoting his music to focus on the artistic aspect of composing. All but forgotten for the twenty-five years following his death, Medtner is now becoming recognized as one of the most significant Russian composers for the piano, thanks at least in part to pianists such as Frank Huang who are passionate about his music and anxious to share it. Medtner's works include fourteen piano sonatas, three violin sonatas, three piano concerti, a piano quintet, two works for two pianos, many shorter piano pieces, a few shorter works for violin and piano, and 108 songs including two substantial works for vocalise.
Frank Huang is a Steinway Artist and currently serves as an Associate Professor of Piano at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Previously, he was a faculty member at The College of Wooster and The Cleveland Institute of Music. A native of Seattle, WA, he was a prize winner in several important international competitions. He earned his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from The Juilliard School and his Doctor of Musical Arts degree at The Cleveland Institute of Music. His creative interests consist of promoting lesser-known works and music of our time. I had the pleasure of seeing him perform in concert a few years ago and loved the variety of music included in the program, his explanations of the music and its composers, and, most of all, his engaging performance.
The album consists of Eight Mood Pictures, Op. 1, 1-8; Six Fairy Tales, Op.51, 1-6; and Forgotten Melodies II, Op.39, 1-5. There is a total of nineteen pieces that clearly demonstrate how versatile and expressive Medtner's work and Huang's playing are. From fast and tempestuous to delicate and graceful, it truly is an amazing recording!
The "8 Mood Pictures" are quite different from each other in mood and expression, and seven of the eight are quite short (1 1/2 - 3 minutes). Nevertheless, they are virtuosic and dramatic. Composed from 1895-1902 when Medtner was 15-21, it's a very impressive set!
The "6 Fairy Tales" were composed in 1928 and are also quite different from each other and very demanding of the pianist. I really like #4, which is lively, playful and very expressive. #6 hints at a jazz influence in places as it rapidly runs up and down the piano keyboard.
The "Forgotten Melodies" were composed between 1919-1920 and are somewhat longer than most of the other works on the album. The titles of the five pieces are "Meditation," "Romance," "Spring," "Morning Song" and "Tragic Sonata." Again, they are all quite different from each other in tone, mood and expression. "Morning Song" is very light and optimistic while the 10 1/2-minute "Tragic Sonata" is dark and turbulent in some places and more peaceful in others.
Solo Piano Works of Nikolai Medtner, Vol. 1 is a very impressive musical tour de force and I look forward to the upcoming future volumes! The album is available from Amazon, Apple/iTunes as well as streaming sites like Spotify and Pandora.
July 2, 2021