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Weill Recital Hall | Carnegie Hall
Tuesday, 9 February 2016 | 8PM
FAURÉ Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 89
MEDTNER Piano Quintet in C Major
- Kitty Cheung, violin
- Kiann Chow, violin
- Ringo Chan, viola
- Eric Yip, cello
Whilst the French Catholics had a choice between choral music, organ music and larger scale orchestral works for their scared music, the Russian Orthodox Church limits its sacred music to choral music alone. Therefore when Medtner devotes his piano quintet to religious purposes, the only musical resource he could draw on—the only reference he has to Russian sacred music—is chants. The ever popular Dies Irae is used here pervasively for its association with the end of a life, in addition to the Christ is Risen already quoted in the third violin sonata—though now with more instruments at Medtner’s disposal in the quintet, the Christ is Risen tune is often presented in canons. Sometimes these canons envelop the whole texture, unintentionally recreating an effect used in the opening movement of Bach’s cantata 80. The penitential second movement departs from the pure key of C major and settles around A minor. Medtner annotated the original score with the following Psalm verses: ‘For thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great.’ ‘Turn thee unto me, and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted.’ ‘Look upon my affliction and my pain; and forgive all my sins.’ ‘O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.’ A return to C major marks the start of the 3rd movement Hosanna.
Anna Medtner says of the quintet:
“[Medtner] took great pains over the simplicity and clarity of the Quintet. The work’s simplicity is not a deliberate simplification or a weakening of creative thought, but a simplicity to which he had been striving all his life; deliberate simplicity he considered a wicked fraud.”
Throughout his works, granted the stylistic similarities with Brahms and some of the later French impressionists, it is this striving for simplicity that sets his music apart from the Germans and the French, and makes him a unique gem even among the other Russian composers.
[Programme notes by Stephen Hung]
Medtner’s violin sonatas were all dedicated to people dear to him: the first sonata to his future wife Anna, the second to his cousin and composer Alexander Goedicke, and the third to his late brother Emil. His piano quintet, finished towards the end of his life, was dedicated to God. His life of poverty had taken a better turn by then, being supported by sympathetic students. Furthermore, his music caught the attention of an Indian maharaja, whose sister studied music in Germany and played him some of Medtner’s music. After the Second World War, the maharaja helped establish a Medtner society to fund the dissemination of his music and recordings, enabling a frail Medtner to record the quintet with the Aeolian quartet and other pieces such as the 1st violin sonata and the 1st piano concerto. The maharaja’s enthusiasm can be seen from this communiqué with his trade commissioner:
“This letter is to inform you that His Highness is specially interested in the music of Nikolai Medtner, a great modern composer and pianist, and wishes to form a ‘Nicolas Medtner Society’, through which it may be possible to make live in the history of music the compositions of a great composer as interpreted by himself. … His Highness would be willing to come forward at once with a donation of £2000 (later £5000) towards getting such a society started. Perhaps HMV, who have already given an album of delightful Medter pieces, or Columbia, may take up the work of recording Medtner’s compositions...”
Gabriel Fauré wrote two piano quintets, Op. 89 in D minor was written in his late forties, while Op. 115 in C minor was written in his seventies. In contrast, his two piano quartets were both early works, yet curiously they all share a common colouristic effect: at some point in these works all of the strings play a single line of melody in unison against a piano accompaniment, as in the 2nd movement of the D minor quintet. Another common feature that immediately sets these typical French works apart is the use of watery broken-chord figurations in the piano part. Even though Fauré’s use of harmonies is at times quite similar to Medtner’s (especially in both composers’ violin sonatas or the third movement of the quintet) this quintessentially French touch of mercurial lightness which also defines the music of Debussy and Ravel is never found in Medtner. Even in choral music such as the famous Pie Jesu from the Fauré Requiem that same sense of lightness still comes through.
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