Evgeny Svetlanov / USSR Symphony Orchestra

The Anthology of Russian Symphony Music

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The music of fin de siècle Russian composer Nikolai Medtner has inspired some intense advocacy. For example, the Maharajah of Mysore liked it so much he paid Medtner to perform and record it. As another example, Evgeny Svetlanov, in his career as a conductor and his side job as a pianist, has performed and recorded nearly six compact discs of Medtner's concertos and solo works for piano, plus his chamber works with piano. Svetlanov's performances both as a pianist and a conductor are authoritative and full of romantic ardor, if at times a bit sloppy. He rips into Medtner's extremely difficult piano writing with barely restrained passion and never lets up until whatever he's playing falls limp at his feet. The same is true of Svetlanov's partners, the USSR Symphony Orchestra, and an unidentified violinist and string quartet. Medtner's music has never been as successful with the public as it was with the Maharajah, and one can readily understand why. Like Scriabin, Medtner is sensual, but unlike him, he's very lethargic. Like Rachmaninov, Medtner is melancholic, but unlike him, he's not very deep. Like Tchaikovsky, Medtner is emotional, but unlike him, he's very dreary. While Medtner's music may sound interesting when you're not listening very hard, the harder you listen, the less interesting it gets. As always in this series, the sound is variable, ranging from impressive to abrasive. The three pieces by the otherwise unknown composer Eduard Nápravnik are wholly undistinguished.

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