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Polish Fantasy
Ignacy Jan PADEREWSKI (1860-1941)
Piano Concerto in A minor, Op.17 (1888) [33:34] 1
Fantaisie Polonaise for Piano and orchestra, Op.19 (1893) [22:37] 2
Krzystof Penderecki
Partita for harpsichord (1971) [19:17] 3
Felicja Blumental (piano; harpsichord)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Helmut Froschauer 1 ; Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Krzystof Penderecki 3; Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra/Robert Wagner 2.
rec. no details given1,2; Polish Radio Studio, Katowice, 1972 3
BRANA BR0028 [75:31]

Felicja Blumental was born in Warsaw in 1908. She studied at the national Conservatory with Szymanowski and with the piano teachers Joseph Goldberg and Zbigniew Drzewiecki amongst others. With the outbreak of World War II she was forced into exile, first in Europe and then, from 1942, in Brazil. She worked there, collaborating with figures such as Villa-Lobos and developing a particular insight into the music of South America. She returned to Europe only in 1954. Her recordings, which are now being extensively reissued by Brana, ranged very widely. Her choice of repertoire was adventurous and eclectic – not too many pianists, surely, have recorded works by, to name but a few, Villa-Lobos and Paisiello, Kozeluch and Carlos Seixas, Vincenzo Manfredini and Ries, Czerny and Hekel Tavares, as well as more ‘mainstream’ names such as Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Grieg. For reviews of some of these (and more) see the end of the review. Blumental died in Tel Aviv on December 28, 1991.
This present CD takes her back to her Polish roots and features music by two very different, yet quintessentially Polish, figures. Paderewski’s life, as is well-known was multi-faceted. A touring pianist - a performer of great charisma - he was, in addition, a statesman and an orator, a fluent linguist and a generous humanitarian. He was also a composer, largely, though not exclusively, of works that he might himself perform (but see Małgorzata Perkowska’s article “Unknown Compositions by Paderewski” in the Polish Music Journal, 4(2), 2001, available online). His Piano Concerto in A minor is made up of two somewhat excessively grandiloquent outer movements and a central nocturne-like Romanza andante. Blumental’s reading of the two outer movements, while interesting, lacks the sheer bravura of Earl Wild’s dazzling performance with the LSO and Arthur Fiedler (originally on RCA and reissued on Elan 2266) or the sophisticated finesse of that by Piers Lane (with Jerzy Maksymiuk and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra) on Hyperion CDA66452 (see review). The central Romanza is as attractive as any composition by Paderewski that I have heard, and Blumental is heard at her best here, her playing poetic and free of excessive sugar, winningly elegant and expressive. No date is given for this recording, but it presumably belongs to much the same period as the 1972 recording of Penderecki’s Partita. The recorded sound is acceptable, but not much more. In the performance of the Polish Fantasy the sound is not so good, though there is plenty to enjoy in Blumental’s performance, which does justice to the insistent rhythms of the mazurka and which radiates energy and enjoyment. The Polish Fantasy is musically rather slight, but Blumental makes an attractively persuasive case for it, and her performance makes for an enjoyable twenty minutes’ worth of belated Romanticism.
For me, however, by far the most valuable item on this CD is Blumental’s interpretation of Penderecki’s remarkable Partita for Harpsichord. Blumental was the dedicatee of this work, commissioned for the 50th anniversary of the Eastman School of Music, and gave the first performance. Penderecki’s score juxtaposes a kind of concertino group of harpsichord, electric guitar, bass guitar, harp and double bass and an orthodox chamber orchestra. It says a great deal for Blumental’s range - and musical open-mindedness - that she could undertake so wholeheartedly, a piece as challenging and unorthodox as this, and bring it off so successfully. This is the early(ish) Penderecki of tone clusters and blocks of sound, of unexpected instrumental effects and fierce, buzzing energy – and Blumental plays it as if to the manner born. The results are exhilarating, a furious marvel of passionate concentration, of scurrying, disturbing, satisfying, contrasts of sound, at times almost threatening, at others oddly and bewilderingly beautiful. Though I don’t have it to hand for comparison, I did once hear the 1980s (?) recording by Elzbieta Stefanska-Lukowicz with the South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra, also conducted by Penderecki. That was a fine performance, and had the benefit of better recorded sound. But this 1972 recording has a special authority, and in any case, has musical merit of a high order.
Admirers and collectors of Penderecki will surely want to own this premiere recording of the Partita. Whether they will also enjoy the less than perfect recordings of Paderewski’s two confections I am not sure. Buy it for the splendid and authoritative performance of the Partita and see if your tolerance doesn’t stretch to enjoyment – or at any rate partial enjoyment – of the works by Paderewski. Mine did.
Glyn Pursglove


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Reviews of Felicja Blumental's recordings on Brana
BR0008 - Concertos by Mozart and Clementi
BR0009 - Concertos by Beethoven and Hoffmeister
BR0013 - Concertos by Tchaikovsky and Arensky
BR0014 - The Spinning Girl
BR0016 - Concertos by Schumann and Kuhlau
BR0017 - Chopin Waltzes
BR0025 - Concertos by Viotti and Piatti
BR0026 - Concertos by Manfredini and Paisiello

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