Romantic Piano Concertos – Nápravník & Blumenfeld

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Nápravník
Concerto symphonique in A minor, Op.27
Fantaisie russe in B minor, Op.39
Blumenfeld
Allegro de concert in A, Op.7

Evgeny Soifertis (piano)

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Titov

Recorded on 15 & 16 September 2004 in Caird Hall, Dundee


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: August 2005
CD No: HYPERION CDA67511
Duration: 58 minutes

Romantic piano concertos come and go, often the latter, unless lovingly preserved by Hyperion; this is Volume 37!

And what a cracker Eduard Nápravník’s Concerto symphonique is! Born in a Czech village, his father a schoolmaster and choirmaster, Nápravník (1839-1916) moved to Russia aged 23. He became the conductor of the Mariinsky (Kirov) Theatre in 1869 and held the post for over forty years. There he conducted many Russian and Western operas, and was much admired, not least by Tchaikovsky and the young Stravinsky, the latter noting Nápravník’s “certainty and unending rigour in the exercise of his art, complete contempt for all affectation and showy effect [and] an infallible ear and memory…”.

Imaginative, generously lyrical and, as you’d expect, romantic, Nápravník’s concerto is a work of quicksilver invention and generous melodies, beautifully orchestrated. Evgeny Soifertis, in his booklet note, mentions some similarities to Brahms; maybe, but Tchaikovsky is also a presence, although Nápravník is very much his own man. This work is a real find, and one wants to hear more of Nápravník’s output: he wrote four operas!

Fantaisie russe offers a ‘second’ piece of Nápravník’s to audition. It’s a later work, from 1881, and attracted the fingers of Siloti and Taneyev, and the baton of Tchaikovsky. Quite a roll call of executants when viewed from more than a century later! Beginning with a powerful but not gratuitous reference to “The Volga Boatmen”, if not as ear-catching as the concerto, this fantasy is nevertheless very assured in its freewheeling, often exuberant journey; a work to return to.

Felix Blumenfeld, from the Ukraine, had his admirers too; Heinrich Neuhaus (who taught Gilels and Richter) defined Blumenfeld (1863-1931) as “a musician from head to foot”. A pianist, composer and conductor (including, in the latter capacity, stints at the Mariinsky), the thought of Blumenfeld performing Beethoven’s sonatas for violin and piano with Pablo de Sarasate is rather stimulating! Blumenfeld’s Allegro de concert is, while very attractive, not as thought-through as Nápravník’s pieces – there are too many diversions – but the ‘big’ tune is memorable and the whole is expertly crafted, the emphasis being on melody, decorous orchestration and, of course, fistfuls of notes for the soloist.

Evgeny Soifertis is clearly a devotee of this ‘sort’ of music; he has written the booklet note and researched performing aspects of the concerto, and plays with conviction, real style, virtuosity and thoughtful musicianship, and enjoys excellent support from the BBC Scottish Symphony and Alexander Titov. The recorded sound is immediate, well-balanced and vivid, and only the piano’s noisy pedal action is a source for occasional complaint. All in all, this is a very recommendable release.

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