The music of Russian composer-pianist Nikolai Medtner is not so commonly heard these days, but as pianist Steven Osborne points out in his notes to this fine Hyperion release, he makes a fine complement to Rachmaninov. Both composers were pianists at the highest level; both came to America (Medtner abandoning the experience after a disastrous bounced check), they were good friends, and both detested modern musical trends. For all that, the two sonatas here create markedly different effects. The Medtner Piano Sonata in B flat minor, Op. 53/1 ("Sonata Romantica"), is a carefully constructed piece that one might liken to Beethoven on steroids. It probably deserves wider exposure, and this tumultuous performance by Scots pianist Steven Osborne, a specialist in just this kind of intelligent but string-breaking repertoire, may give it just that. Rachmaninov, by contrast, is structurally loose enough that he revised his own Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36, and allowed Vladimir Horowitz to combine the two versions. Given that, it's hard to fault Osborne for feeling free to create his own hybrid. Osborne is not Horowitz, but this is a muscular, exciting performance, and it's worth it for the Medtner sonata alone (and the pair of very Rachmaninov-like Skazki, Op. 20).
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Skazki. Op. 20|
|Sonata in B flat minor 'Sonata Romantica', Op. 53/1|
|Piano Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 36|