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  Classical Editor: Rob Barnett  
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Brana Records

Frédéric CHOPIN (1810-49)
Seventeen Waltzes
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Recorded in New York, 1959
BRANA RECORDS BR0017 [51’47]

Felicja Blumental’s many fans will no doubt be enjoying this major series of reissues from Brana. Polish-born Blumental had an enviable reputation right up to her death in Tel Aviv in 1991. She excelled in a wide range of repertoire, from the major classics through (then) forgotten areas of the romantic era (Busoni, Ries, Saint-Saëns) right up to commissioned pieces from her avant-garde countrymen Penderecki and Lutosławski.

Her love for the music of another compatriot, Chopin, is evident in virtually every bar of this waltz set. Being from the era where pianists were not afraid to take risks, or show particular traits of originality, these performances positively fizz with character, wit and vitality. The grander waltzes, such as the opening two in E flat and A flat, have an imperious grandeur that easily overrides the odd technical smudge. I very much like her handling of the more introspective and delicate pieces, where the crystalline finger work and limpid phrasing sound totally natural and unforced. The famous, baleful opening of No.7 in C sharp minor is captured to perfection, whilst the following waltz (another A flat) has a suitably improvisatory quality that is not easily forgotten. This is Chopin playing of the highest order, with judicious tempi throughout allied to eloquent rubato. Whilst she may not display quite the mercurial temperament that makes Dinu Lipati’s set such a benchmark, she is at least as convincing as (and perhaps stylistically closest to) Rubinstein’s last set on RCA, as well as including three of the ‘extra’ works.

The recording is reasonably full-bodied and clear, though hiss levels sound almost as high as Lipati’s set from over a decade earlier. Odd edit points are audible (very hard to hide on older recordings) and there seemed to be a strange drop in dynamic level for No.4, which then rights itself. It’s a general measure of the success of the balance and excellent piano tone that I wasn’t even sure whether it was mono or not (I changed my mind a couple of times, eventually deciding that it was). Either way, the sound will not affect your overall enjoyment of some beautifully refined and distinguished pianism.

Tony Haywood

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