Russian composer and pianist Nikolay Medtner was of German background, was fluent in both Russian and German, and combined aspects of each musical tradition in music that was, by the standards of the early twentieth century, conservative, but without ever resorting to comfortable simplicities. Of Prokofiev, who helped him out on occasion, he said, "It is impossible for me to accept his music as art, or even as talent." The contemporary who admired him most was the supreme late Russian Romantic, Sergey Rachmaninov, and his pianism was nearly on a par with that of that towering figure. The curious billing on the album, with the name of pianist Boris Berezovsky in large print flanked by the smaller names of the singers, is fully justified by the major role played by the piano even in the vocal works recorded here. The Germanic side of Medtner's musical personality manifests itself in contrapuntal density, and the piano goes beyond accompaniment, even beyond equal partnership with the singer. These songs, mostly in Russian with a few in German, offer a good introduction to his style. The singers here, who are even pictured in an unusual soft focus, in the booklet photos, keep the volume down and the focus on the thick currents of Berezovsky's playing. Interspersed among the songs are piano pieces called Skazki, which literally means "tales," although the music is evocative rather than specifically programmatic (except in the Lisztia Campanella [Bells] from the Two Stories, Op. 20, track 25). Several are formidably difficult technically, but Berezovsky brings to them not only confidence but also flair. Medtner's music bristles with complexities that have denied him wide popularity, but people who get a grip on him tend to turn into confirmed fans. Both the mixture of pieces and the perforamances here are suited to the job of making new converts. All song texts, whatever their original languages, appear in German, English, French, and Russian, but the booklet notes lack the last of these.
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