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Carl CZERNY (1791-1857)
Variations on a Theme by Haydn Op.73 [27.31]
Vienna Chamber Orchestra/Helmut Froschauer, recorded Vienna, 1968
Karl STAMITZ (1745-1801)

Piano Concerto in F major [21.32]
Württemberg Chamber Orchestra/Jörg Faerber, recorded Württemberg, undated
George Joseph VOGLER (1749-1814)

Variations on Marlborough s’en va-t-en-guerre (1791) [22.04]
Prague New Chamber Orchestra/Alberto Zedda, recorded Milan, 1963
Felicja Blumental (piano)
BRANA BR0024 [71.02]

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It’s good to see Brana back on form after a slight hiatus with their last release. Here they do what they’ve done consistently well; restoring Felicja Blumental’s legacy in sensible compilations – unusual repertoire played in the main by European chamber orchestras and recorded by smaller labels, such as Turnabout, in the 1960s.

This disc bears the title Variations, which certainly applies to the Czerny and Vogler though not to the Stamitz Concerto in F major. Czerny based his theme on Haydn’s well known Gott erhalte den Kaiser (better know now as Deutschland über Alles) and he presents an Introduction, statement of the theme, five variations, an adagio and to conclude a strong finale. One has to acknowledge here the rather raw sound and the very up-front piano placement, both casualties of 1960s setups. The Introduction is somewhat portentous and reminiscent of Beethoven, whilst the theme is stated by the piano then restated by the flute with gracious simplicity, around which the piano spins some arabesques. Czerny was something of a master of variation form and we hear great colour and invention and orchestral incident. Variation four for instance features some fine strutting piano – rugged and powerful – whilst No.5 is stormily intense and sombre with an almost vocalised lyrical impulse. Notice how Czerny gives the melody to various sections of the orchestra and allows the solo piano to decorate nimbly around them.

Stamitz’s Concerto is a variation-free zone. He employs the Mannheim crescendo as well as anyone and the writing is warm, lithe, echt-Classical. The piano is more backwardly placed than was the case with the Czerny, slightly too much so in fact as it becomes a touch submerged in the balance. A real high point is the chamber intimacy conjured textually in the slow movement. Stamitz gives lines to section leaders and there’s a real sense of give and take here. It helps that Blumental was an experienced chamber player and she sparkles in the spirited, uncomplicated finale.

Vogler is the least well known of the trio of composers. Well connected in Mannheim he had his own music school and developed something of a reputation as a controversialist. His 1791 Variations on Marlborough s’en va-t-en-guerre are probably the least consistently interesting work of the three though still not without interest. The sound is slightly veiled and the variations are rather repetitious with little overt signs of the advanced harmonies for which Vogler was known. I liked the baroque inflexions of Variation 9 and the wittily unserious fugue that runs through the finale.

Brana has done what it can with the original tapes given the inherent problems of the original recordings But moments of pre-echo and print through on the tapes are audible very occasionally, and it’s probably the case that they’ve only had commercial LPs from which to work. But a return to form, as I said, in sensitive and warm 1960s performances.

Jonathan Woolf

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