Thanks are due to Brana Records for allowing
us to enjoy the artistry of Felicja Blumental and simultaneously
explore a couple of the byways of the piano concerto repertoire.
Felicja Blumental was (she died in 1991) a pianist who specialised
in music which supplements the standard repertoire, yet she is
no second-rater. She plays not only with utter belief in these
pieces, but also with an unfailing musicality that can illuminate
the lowliest phrase.
Czerny the composer (as opposed to Czerny the
pedagogue) is under-represented in the catalogues. His music rarely
falls under the hands of the great interpreters (an exception
is Alexis Weissenberg’s version of the Variations on a theme
of Rode on Philips’ Great Pianists of the Twentieth Century
456 988-2). True, this is not always massively memorable music,
but even when it is not it shows a tendency to fizz with a plethora
of arpeggios. Czerny provides an interesting link between Beethoven
(who taught him) and Liszt (whom he taught). The Piano Concerto
in A minor is a little uneven and it could be argued that 16 minutes
for the first movement is several too many. The lovely, lyrical
second subject is rather more remarkable than the work’s somewhat
workaday first subject area (despite the effective shadowy clouds
of the first bars). Blumental gives her all, though, her playing
always clean and delightful. She enjoys the Chopinesque decorations
(a pity the piano sound is rather tinny in the higher frequencies).
The very first chord of the slow movement is
redolent of the second movement of Beethoven’s third concerto,
but it soon becomes apparent this is an altogether lighter statement.
Which is not to undermine its beauty, of course. Blumental plays
with much delicacy here. The editing has to be questioned in the
final movement (which begins at 3’13 in track 2 with a jolt in
the middle of a trill) – at 4’03 the edit is just embarrassing
(it is impossible to miss), and again at 14’11. A shame, as there
is much joy in this performance.
The Ries immediately shows the Beethoven influence
in its seriousness of intent (Ferdinand, eldest son of Franz Anton
Ries, studied piano with Beethoven in Vienna, 1802-4). Although,
like the Czerny, the C sharp minor Concerto is emphatically not
a work of genius, there is no doubting its composer’s imagination
and it is good to see some darker clouds scud across the sky from
time to time. The work unfolds gradually yet easily. Blumental
is marvelously delicate (try around 9’30 into the first movement),
and she spins the melodies well in the Larghetto. Beethoven’s
shadow once more crosses the music in the finale. Blumental clearly
relishes the sparkling cascades of notes.
The recording is perfectly adequate once one
adjusts. The piano shows a tendency towards harshness up top and
there are those edits to contend with but it is all actually a
small price to pay for such delight. Recommended.