Felicja Blumental (piano)
Piano Concerto No.1 in C, Op 15 (Vienna SO/Robert Wagner; recorded 1962)
Piano Concerto in D (Prague Chamber O/Alberto Zedda; 1967)
BRANA RECORDS BR 0009
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op.21 (Innsbruck SO/Robert Wagner; no recording date given)
The Four Scherzos (1960)
BRANA RECORDS BR 0010
Piano Concerto No.9 in E flat, K271 (Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra/Leopold Hager; 1976)
Piano Concerto in C (Prague SO/Alberto Zedda; 1980)
BRANA RECORDS BR 0008
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: February 2004
CD No: See below
The Polish-born pianist Felicja Blumental (1908-91) is featured on these discs from Brana Records. A further point of interest is the coupling of standard concertos with little-known examples from Hoffmeister and Clementi.
The performances on these three discs are consistent, and therefore of variable quality in terms of their appropriateness to the music. The Chopin is idiomatic and forceful, the Scherzos in particular a pleasure to listen to (despite the ’watery’ over-processed sound). Blumental is technically assured, at ease in the repertoire, the balance between the heroic outer sections and the lyrical trios is apparent in all four pieces.
Blumental gives strong, focused, at times deliberate performances. Thus, despite the notes’ opinion that Blumental was famed for her Mozart, this is by some way the least successful disc, lacking the lightness and grace found in Haskil or Lipatti’s playing of the composer; and the Clementi is the most forgettable work here. Equally, although the Beethoven and Hoffmeister concertos are well performed, it is difficult to identify a true distinctiveness – or distinction – of performance.
Nevertheless, it is right that Blumental’s playing and recordings should not be forgotten. She did much to revive rare and neglected repertoire; a cultural centre and music festival in Tel Aviv commemorate her achievement.
What of the transfers, always a key element in historic recordings? At times, in fact on the Mozart disc, there’s an airless quality about the sound, with metallic-sounding orchestral strings, maybe due to too much filtering. In general, the mastering is very good (helped perhaps by the relatively recent performance-dates in terms of ’historic significance) – retaining the bloom and freshness of the piano sound against a quiet background; although, as I say, the Chopin Scherzos are tonally compromised.
These discs are generally well produced in terms of annotation. Given the profusion of recordings, it is natural to use the Internet to open up the niche market for these discs; Brana’s website includes the booklet notes. The “Friends and Rivals” format used for the Mozart and Beethoven discs rather stretches the point – few are likely to buy these recordings simply to find out about lesser-known composers. Although the notes recount some interesting anecdotes, Clementi’s sadly unimaginative work and Hoffmeister’s more pleasant but relatively uninspired piece ultimately stand or fall by their own efforts.