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Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op 11 No. 2 in Dm

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Rachfan, Sep 27, 2010.

  1. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Nikolai Medtner (1880-1951), a Russian Late Romantic composer, composed his “Sonata-Elegia”, Op. 11, No. 2 between 1904-1908 as part of a triad of sonatas which can be played as a set or individually. The “Sonata-Elegia” is written in one movement in sonata-allegro form.

    The preceding Sonata, Op. 11, No. 1 carries a dedication to the memory of Andrei Bratenshi, which applies to the entire triad. Medtner’s wife was Anna Bratenskaya, thus Andrei Bratenshi was a close family member.

    When we think of an elegy--Rachmaninoff's "Elegy" from Op. 3, for example—it usually creates a mournful or even funereal mood. However, Medtner was an inveterate storyteller. Once, upon hearing Medtner play one of his “Fairy Tales”, Rachmaninoff exclaimed, “Nobody can tell a story like Nikolai!” As I was preparing this sonata, I came to the realization that the piece is not so much an elegy as it is a musical eulogy giving us glimpses into the life and times of Bratenshi. And what a remarkable eulogy it is! It contains moments of somberness, romance, pensiveness, nostalgia, anguish, and even jubilation.

    Medtner's music strikes me as being more in the Germanic than the Russian tradition of pianism, as Medtner considered himself a student of Beethoven. His musical line is often embedded in a thick texture. At some moments I thinned it a little through melodic voicing, but at other times allowed the more daring harmonies to be more robust.

    Do pay attention to the first six melodic notes spread over the first two measures of the introduction, as they form the “germ motif” for the sonata.

    Comments welcome.

    Piano: Baldwin Model L Artist Grand (6’3”)
    Recorder: Korg MR-1000
    Microphones: Earthworks TC20 matched pair of small diaphragm omni-directional condenser mics in A-B configuration


    Medtner - Sonata-Elegia Op.11, No. 2
     
  2. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    I just knew it would be a matter of time before you turned your attention to Medtner :D
    This is an original choice, one hardly ever hears this triad of sonatas. I know them well though I have not
    played them for quite some years. IIRC the middle one is the 'easiest', insofar as anything is ever easy with Medtner.
    All three are quite a handful (though a smaller handful than the large-scale sonatas) and I'll certainly excuse you for
    missing a few notes. For a non-professional to play this repertoire is a great achievement. I plan to listen tonight and give some feedback. Medtner rulez 8)
     
  3. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi David,
    I don't know this piece and don't have the score, so I can't offer anything real useful. It does sound like it's not an easy piece and you played it well! There are those page turns, though. You know how I love that... :lol: . Don't worry, I'm not expecting you to memorize something like this, but maybe you can at least eliminate some of them by making copies - like the very first page turn came up so soon - you can copy that first page and have it up next to the book...things like that. Also, I don't think I heard any reverb. Did you apply any? To me, a little would sound nice. Just my opinion, though.
     
  4. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Oh yes, I meant to say this sounds rather dry, not quite the opulent Medtner sound. Certainly not in the sparsely written beginning where some pedal could have helped.
    And yes these page turns are really obnoxious... And does your bench creak as well when you do it ? When are you going to start editing David ? :p I'd prefer a cut (even if it's not a good one) to a laborious and noisome page turn.
    Also, while the Baldwin bass is warm and full, the treble is a little sour here, and could maybe benefit from a tuning.

    I listened without score. It's a bit of a struggle in places, but you come out chin up, I give you that. I believe the coda should go much faster but that's easier said than done. I will listen with score tonight and give some more detailed comments (though I fear that listing all the booboos is not an option :( )
     
  5. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for listening, and thanks too for your compliment! This was my first Medtner piece, so it posed quite a challenge. Medtner's very complex idiom is more in the German than the Russian tradition, which has never been my forte to be honest. Medtner also loves double-note passages. By the time I reached the coda, my hands were tired from pushing through the thick textures of his writing. It was a trip! I wish I could have been more accurate, but am prone to taking risks which sometimes work better than at other times. :oops:

    Thanks for the suggestion on that first page turn. I can no longer memorize what I had for lunch, never mind a music score. :lol: In all of the turns, I was able to continue playing through them, but could not prevent the rustling paper sound unfortunately. As for reverb, I've never taken a shine to that echo effect, even when on a low setting. I really prefer the pure sound of the piano and the fidelity of my recording equipment. So I adhere to authenticity, warts and all. Plus I think most people understand that these are room, not recital hall, recordings. But that's just me and my point of view.

    Thanks again. :)

    David
     
  6. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Chris,

    Yes, at the urgings of you and some of the other members, I finally did a Medtner piece. Raise the flag! :)

    I purposely used very little pedal in the introduction. In my mind that's the moment when Medtner peers into Bratenshi's coffin, so I wanted a very stark effect there. After Medtner's dizzying shock followed by his fond memories of his relative and good friend, I try to play the sonata in a more lush and rhapsodic manner.

    Nope, I'm not going to edit my room recordings, although my two edit programs are starting to rust and feel neglected. Call me incorrigible, but authenticity rules! :lol:

    I have a Jansen bench and keep the bolts tightened, but sometimes it does squeak. I think it's the huge fluctuations of humidity and dryness that we have in this climate. Two days ago the relative outdoor humidity was 90, yesterday it was 46, and today it's 82.

    As to the treble, the piano was just tuned last week. It was sharp, but we decided to keep it sharp and tune it in place. Once fall starts, pianos tend to go flat here.

    One thing I tried to do for this musical eulogy, as I call it, is to make the piano sing it, not unlike a long Wagnerian aria. If I achieved nothing else, I believe I accomplished that to my own satisfaction.

    Looking forward to your comments. I do know where the skeleton of every wrong note is buried. The irony is that in some outtakes they were correct, but other problems cropped up instead. Frustrating! I don't think it's a matter of practicing. Instead it's trying to cope with the complexities in the moment of performance, including risk taking. I couldn't produce a flawless play-through. Others would have been sorely tempted with editing to cut and paste the sections to produce an improved overall recording. But... I'd rather stick with the real thing. Today's professional CDs are often more the product of the recording engineer than the artist, which leads to sterile, plain vanilla recordings including the cookie cutter renditions that one hears at competitions and recitals. Individuality is on the wane it seems. These days they all sound alike.

    David
     
  7. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    I listened with score now, and have some suggestions. I generally admire your idiomatic and individual way with this. I'd do things differently but your choices are always artistic and convincing. There are are many nice things, but I hope I can persuade you to have another go at this and clear up some things that aren't right. I listed those that seemed most important, while not picking on each and every little thing. I'll give timings because my score doesn't have bar numbers.

    The run ending the introduction is impassioned but rather fumbled. The page turn after that is not too bad.
    1:00 - 1:05 Wrong rhythm (this should be 2 against three)
    1:19 The upward run is too fast and unclear
    1:25 - 1:26 Why change from f natural to f sharp ?
    1:30 Wrong chord - missing note - I miss the molto allargando and concluding fermata
    1:31 - 1:47 This passage really needs more work. Some notes are missing, impacting the rhythm
    1:48 Why this huge pause
    2:35 This bar is one eight too short
    2:41 The page turn not too bad but the pause could have easily been cut out
    3:09 - 3:20 This passage doesn't quite hang together. Too many notes missing, impacting rhythm
    3:25 - 3:28 F sharp should be f natural
    3:38 You seem to collapse instead of playing rinforzando
    4:17 - 4:21 Here are too many wrong notes, the closing chord is wrong - and that page turn !!!
    5:21 A chord is left out, impacting the rhythm
    5:58 - 6:02 Hmmmmm.... this needs more work really...
    6:09 This is funny... you hurry thought that fermata, play the first chord of the coda (rather dubiously), then take your time
    for the page turn ! The fermata gives you all the time in the world to do it silently, if only you think ahead a little.

    The coda, while hardly Allegro molto, does actually contain your best moments I think. It seems to work well at a slower speed. Also a great many fumbles throughout these two pages, especially the last, but you manage to convince all the same.

    I'm sorry to be a little nitpicky here David. But I am sure you can do much better with this one if you give it some more careful practice. So, no editing for you.... I respect that. Still, you should do something about the page turns somehow. Be sure we'll keep nagging you about it :D
     
  8. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for that list of errata. It's a help, and I appreciate your time in listening with the score.

    Regarding the run after the introduction, I do wish it could be better, but I think that the arthritis robs me of dexterity that I once possessed. I've tried practicing the run in rhythms which helps, but sometimes I can play it fairly well, and other times not. Seems that I can't be consistent with it.

    I disagree with your point at 3:25 noting that the F# should be a natural. I'm reading from the Dover Edition based on the Soviet Union edition of 1959-1963 in four volumes. In the RH, according to this edition on page 64, the hand starts in the bass clef where there is an accidental F#, and as the hand then moves into the treble clef Medtner gives the obligatory F# accidental again due to that clef change, as accidentals, of course, operate independently within their own clefs. In the final 16th chord in that measure, there is no choice but to continue with the F# in the D 7th first inversion chord forming the slur with the G-B double-notes across the bar line, as Medtner placed no natural on the F to mitigate it. When I first starting practicing the piece, I too at first played it as an F natural, but later in the process, the preceding F# caught my eye causing me to stop and study it for a moment, and I decided then that F# was the proper note there, wrote it into the score, and played it accordingly.

    I'm certainly willing to invest more time with this piece to try to incorporate these improvements, and will submit another recording. If that's still insufficient, then I think we'll need to delete it from the site so I can move on to other repertoire where I can be more successful. Although Medtner was Russian born, he was of German heritage and and was a great admirer of Beethoven, certainly an influence on his composing. I seem to have a much greater affinity to other Russian and French music. It's been interesting and challenging though. :)

    Thanks again.

    David
     
  9. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    I didn't realize you were suffering from arthritis :shock: That would make some of these pages a bitch, indeed.
    It's too easy to say 'don't give in to that', you surely have to make at least some allowances. Maybe taking that run a bit more relaxed would help. Or, concentrate to get the end of it right. My teacher once told me it doesn't matter so much if you screw up a run, as long as you end it correctly.

    Not sure about the Dover edition. I have the original Jurgenson score, and am referring to the last two beats of the 3rd measure in attached image. I don't see any F-shaps anywhere near. But this is not a big deal.

    I'm sure when you give this another go it will be much much better, and you will be much more satisfied with it. As amateurs we can hardly hope to reach note perfection in works like this so don't worry about it not being good enough.

    But you do make life awfully hard on yourself by insisting on one take without any cuts..... It's a noble goal but just so impractical. I don't think the artistic quality would suffer if you cut out a page turn or nasty flub, or combine the best of 2 takes provided that they match well.
     
  10. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Chris,

    I was working on that run in my sleep last night! The osteoarthritis isn't too bad, but just enough to cause a hint of stiffness sufficient to interfere with nibble execution sometimes. I hate aging! :evil: (The arthritis is worst in my neck actually where about 10 years ago I had an excruciating pinched nerve which made some of my LH fingers go numb although I played the piano that way :lol: . I take glucosamine which I believe helps considerably.

    OK, from the score fragment I see where you're looking now. The irony: When I first started practicing this piece, I played that F as F#, but later discovered my error and penciled in a large natural sign there. But evidently the F# habit resurfaced to haunt me in making the recording. That's why the books suggest slow practice and hesitating to play any notes while learning until you're absolutely sure they're the right ones. Otherwise, wrong notes in practice can quickly become habit, and undoing a habit is much more difficult than forming it in the first place. And chances are, it will reemerge during a performance or recording. So yes, I definitely got stung there! :oops:

    I should have another recording in a couple of weeks, I hope.

    David
     
  11. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi David,
    I have listened to your performance with great pleasure, because this a rendition with a convincing artistic concept (as we are used by you). I like how you work out all the harmonic "special points" respective highpoints. I think, that´s a typical feature of that piece, that appears a clear major or minor chord after a long "Wagnerian" chromatic phrase. And all that interesting aspects of phrasing you seem to feel very well while playing. I´m sorry to hear about your arthritis, David, but you still play quite well with it.
    Of course, that Medtner-piece is a big challenge, but mentally you are not so far from it as you want to make us believe above. I think, you really have some good affinity to it.
    Thank you for posting that interesting and rarely heard sonata!
     
  12. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Andreas,

    Thanks so much for listening! Other than our moderators, you're the first. I was trying to figure out whether it was my playing, or Medtner, or both. Then it dawned on me that it might be the back-to-school time factor during which activity seems to drop off every year.

    Anyway, I'm delighted that you found some things to like in my recording. I did put much effort into the treatment of harmonies and the phrasing, so am glad you noticed it while listening.

    The idiom of this piece is very Germanic, and to be candid, I've never been as good at playing the Germanic piano literature as the Russian and French repertoire. Medtner's textures become quite thick at times which is as taxing as some of Schumann's works. The sonata is a difficult piece to play well, and for the amateur pianist like myself, it's definitely a "stretch".

    Regarding Medtner's ouevre, I searched for quite awhile to find a piece that has great beauty to it. The "Sonata-Elegia" fit that requirement nicely, and yes, I admit to having an affinity to it, as it actually has melodies in it! There are many Medtner pieces that turn me off, however, striking me as being dry, detached, lacking in "purple patches" of beauty, and sounding rather dreary. Pieces like his "Sonata-Reminiscenza" or the "Sonata-Tragica", although seemingly very popular, leave me completely cold. Medtner's music seems more abstruse. He also (like Mendelssohn) favors faster tempi, while I tend to be better playing the more lyrical tempi. A composer's piece has to engage and inspire me before I'll commit to it. Life is too short, and as I get older I want to play music that deeply moves me and, as a result, the listeners hopefully. I'm sure that there are some other gems hiding in Medtner's works, but I need to uncover them. As long as I'm interested enough to continue exploring, it means I have not yet given up on him. I'd like to do a couple more of his pieces anyway

    I hope to have a new replacement recording of this "Sonata-Elegia" ready in the relative near future that irons out some of the rough spots in the present one.

    Thanks again for your comments!

    David
     
  13. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Whohooo ! Don't subscribe to that worn-out cliche that Medtner is like Brahms without the melodies. It is true that some of his works can be overlong, academic, and/or notey, and that some of those are so complex as to being hard to unravel, both for the pianist and listener, but great beauty abounds everywhere else ! I could cite many examples, most often in the Skazki, those wondrous tales by a master storyteller. Some of them take your breath away with their beauty, some knock you over with their ferocity. The Forgotten Melodies are in the same league. I've long wished to record some items from these sets, but there' always something else taking priority somehow.

    In the end of course it's down to taste. I find that with only few exceptions, Bortkiewicz leaves me cold, and so, to a lesser extent, does Catoire. So I can't well blame you for not waxing lyrically over Medtner. It's ok, I will do that instead :D
     
  14. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Chris,

    Thanks for mentioning the Skazki and Forgotten Melodies. I do have the complete Sonatas and Fairy Tales here, but not the other two volumes, although I can get them easily enough. But I do have a CD of Irina Ossipova playing Cycles 1 and 2 and Earl Wild playing the Vergessene Weisen, Op. 39 from the Forgotten Melodies, but nothing there really caught my fancy. But they are not the only pieces in the volume. The law of averages says that I should find something of interest looking through it all.

    Once I redo the Medtner, I'm going to need a break before undertaking his next piece. So a couple of other interesting late romantic composers coming up. :)

    David
     
  15. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Rachfan wrote:
    I really do that with pleasure, because I like your great musicality!

    I don´t know, if I find him so "Germanic", o.k. may be he has something of Wagner or Hugo Wolf, but Schumann is much more alive and soulful in my personal opinion. (I have to admit, I hate Wagner and I´m also not a too big fan of Hugo Wolf, but I really love Mendelssohn, Wagners enemy, btw.) Medtner for me has also a lot of this kind of intellectual complexity like a Schostakowitsch or other russian (more modern) composers. In everycase he has not so much in common with Beethoven IMO. But all these comparations seem always to "limp" a bit, isn´t it? So, probably Medtner simply stays Medtner and that´s it!
     
  16. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi Andreas,

    Here's an interesting observation by a fine pianist regarding this piece that I want to share:

    "Difficult composer in many ways! And difficult piece indeed! How do you effect a balance between the running narrative, the melody which weaves its way throughout the piece, and the many conversations of the thick, complex counterpoint? On top of that you need a transparent sound that's wrapped in the sustained warmth of the vertical harmony, and an emphasis on many character shifts through the course of a singularly focused structure...Medtner's demands are close to impossible! But if you can just catch that imagination...."

    That probably better captures the complexities I was referring to earlier. In the execution of this piece, at times a third hand would certainly have been a big help! :lol: I think what helped me most though, as that person said above, was "catching the imagination", and that ties into your comment about musicality, as the latter depends on the former. With imagination--sensing Medtner's narrative--I could better deal with the technical demands and intricacies of the music. Yes, your notion of a Wagnerian influence is possible, but in the end as you say, Medtner is Medtner.

    David :)
     
  17. andrew

    andrew Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Thanks for uploading this, as I'm not familiar with the piece at all. There are moments where you don't sound technically comfortable (in fairness, some of it sounds tricky) but for the most part your musical feel and shaping more than makes up for it. I agree that the coda works well.

    A few thoughts on some of the contentious issues :) Re page turns, it doesn't apply here, but in shorter pieces if I haven't got them memorized and want to run through the full piece, I photocopy or scan the music and tape the individual pages together, no page turns! Works for up to about five pages.

    Re editing I really do think your principles are making your life unnecessarily difficult.

    Firstly, if you allowed yourself a small amount of cosmetic editing i.e. patching the occasional wrong note, you would be able to take more risks. Secondly, I don't see anything wrong with such editing. It's just removing the odd blemish and not actually changing the overall conception in any way, just making a small improvement to the execution. And you remain both the recording engineer and artist.. What I would stand 100% against is wholescale cut and pasting putting entire recordings together from a multitude of different takes. Is it really true (as I've heard) that Vasary's Chopin etudes were done in 4 and 16 bar segments and joined together later? Sounds to me like the antithesis of true music-making. Still, it remains your choice and far be it for me to try to convince you otherwise.
     
  18. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    Hi andrew,

    Thanks for listening, and I'm glad I was able to introduce you to a new piece. I appreciate your kind comments!

    I too do the four- and five-page pieces by spreading copies out on the music desk. This sonata, however, is 9 pages. I can't memorize anymore, and there is no page turner here, so I have to do the best I can, even where some turns come at awkward places.

    Your arguments for reasonable editing do make sense, but if I can produce a full take that is really good save a few minor errors, I really prefer to go that way for the sake of authenticity and continuity. But I do appreciate your thoughts on it.

    David
     
  19. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    The discussion on editing remains as interesting as always :D
    I've done this on a couple of occasions, when during postprocessing it turned out that the last take, which I thought was good, did have some nasty flaw. In such a case it is good to have some alternative takes available. IIRC there was one occasion where I had to use 3 takes.... no fun really. As a rule I have one take with a couple of cuts (typically not more than one per page or else it becomes too fragmented).

    I thought that was about Pollini's set. But I'm sure it happens more often. It would be all too easy to smooth out the tempo differences and join them together seamlessly.
     
  20. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Re: Medtner, Sonata-Elegia, Op. 11, No. 2 in Dm

    When it comes to Pollini, cutting and pasting or a single take wouldn't change my usual reaction to his playing--falling asleep. :lol:
     

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