To quote the Brana
Records website, www.branarecords.com
"Our current focus is on the ...
work of the Polish/Brazilian pianist
Felicja Blumenthal ... from the 1960s,
(she) made a specialty of music outside
the regular repertory, particularly
from the early 19th century
... She recorded works for piano and
orchestra by (Muzio) Clementi, (John)
Field, (Leopold) Kozeluch, (Carl) Czerny,
(Johann Nepomuk) Hummel, (Ferdinand)
Ries and (Ignacy Jan) Paderewski, among
you may ask, yes. It seems that she
emigrated to Brazil in 1942 when conditions
in war-torn Poland made staying impossible.
She soon became involved with the rich
musical life of her new country, most
notably the music of Heitor Villa-Lobos
whose 5th Piano Concerto
is dedicated to her. She died in 1991
in Tel Aviv (on her 83rd
birthday) and in 1999 the same city’s
International Music Festival was named
After all that, you
may ask, "but how well does she
play the piano?" The answer is,
in a word, magnificently.
Anyone who has studied
the piano and gotten to the "intermediate"
stage, as I had by my late teens, is
probably familiar with the fiendishly
difficult études by Carl Czerny.
Taught by Beethoven, at 10, and a teacher
of Liszt, he was a somewhat pivotal
character in the 19th century
central European musical scheme of things,
his opera (the plural of opus) are catalogued
at over 600 and among those previously
mentioned piano studies are such daunting
titles as "The School of Velocity,
Op. 299" which gives some idea
of why he has been reviled by so many
piano pupils ever since the mid-1850s.
I specifically recall
the circumstances under which I acquired
and first heard this, and as far as
I can tell, the only, recording of the
Czerny Variations, Op 73. It was the
summer of 1973, I was 19 years old,
working in a record store which specialized
in classical music and looking for something
new and interesting but inexpensive
to play that evening at a soirée
I was giving for three or four friends.
As I searched through the "cut
out" (deleted) bin, I came across
a record with a hideous yellow and black
design on it. The title read "Czerny:
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op 73"
and "Ries: Concerto for Piano and
Orchestra, in C sharp minor, Op 55".
I immediately recognized the hated Czerny
but knew nothing about or by Ries. When
I turned the album over and glanced
at the timings I was delighted to see
that the Variations ran for just over
27 minutes and the Concerto for over
30 minutes! What a bargain I mused,
nearly an hour of music for $1.99 (those
were the days).
I put the record on
as I began serving dinner; and we ate
and drank as the music clattered along
in the background for nearly six minutes
("Introduction – Adagio, ma non
troppo"); it all sounded rather
boring. Then there was a break in the
banter and it happened, we heard THE
THEME; and what tune do you suppose
Herr Czerny chose to write his variations
on? In the store, I had thought, maybe
something like the one chosen by Brahms
for his "Haydn Variations",
but NOOOOO. The theme is "Gott
erhalte den Kaiser" (God protect
our Emperor)* later known as "Deutschland
über Alles" (Germany over
All – the German National Anthem)+.
At first, we all looked at each other,
as if to say "he’s got to be kidding".
One of my guests, who was Jewish, said
jokingly that he’d appreciate it if
I would make another music selection,
but then the piano part really started
to get intricate, with lots of runs
up and down the keyboard (alla Liszt),
as one might expect in a set of variations.
By the time we arrived at the four minute
plus "Finale" we were all
in stitches. The album became one of
my favorite "party" records
from that day forward. The individual
variations are tracked and beautifully
re-mastered so it is now possible to
program just the most amusing bits (tracks
2-4, 6, 9). To further confuse the matter,
Variation 5, which should be designated
as track 7 is incorrectly marked as
track 2, oops! If you like this piece,
Ms. Blumenthal’s performance of Czerny’s
Piano Concerto, in A minor, Op 214 is
available coupled with the previously
mentioned Concerto by Ferdinand Ries
(Pupils of Beethoven: Brana Records
- BR0005 review).
Carl Stamitz’s Piano
Concerto in F major is his only
surviving keyboard concerto and is not
often listed among his works. Stamitz
favored the 3-movement A-B-A Italian
pattern in his orchestral works as well
as the Rondo and both are featured here.
The similarity of this
work to the keyboard concertos of W.A.
Mozart is astounding. Carl was eleven
years older than Wolfgang, so one can
hear how the younger composer was influenced
by the elder. By the time Mozart was
14, however, Stamitz had left Mannheim
to tour France, England and Holland
for ten years. Who can tell if this
fact made it easier for Wolfgang to
develop his own musical identity. Listening
to this concerto makes one wonder.
The first movement
opens with delightfully breezy string
arpeggios, a hallmark of the Mannheim
school. The piano enters almost daintily,
but soon establishes itself as a full
partner. The conversation is as one
might imagine taking place at an elegant
tea party, so very polite and proper,
however, there are a few unexpected
twists harmonically. Surprisingly, there
is a section within the cadenza that
sounds as if Franz Schubert pinched
it for his Impromptu No. 4 in A flat,
The second movement
"Andante moderato" can best
be described as "pastoral"
and includes prominent solo passages
for the woodwinds which harmonize very
nicely with the piano. In the "Rondo
- Allegro" finale Stamitz gives
us a movement filled with spirit and
verve. The horns provide a little pomp
and just the right amount of froth is
added by the piano at the finish.
Listed in The Oxford
Companion to Music primarily as a theorist,
secondarily as a keyboard player and
thirdly as a composer, one can see why
Georg Joseph Vogler (1749-1814)
is so little known. He founded a music
school in Mannheim (1776) as a proving-ground
for his theories on harmony, about which
he wrote several treatises.
His Variations on L’air
de "Marlborough, s’en va-t-en
guerre (1791)" is based on
an 18th Century nursery song title,
‘Malbrouk, s’en va-t’en Guerre.’
It is assumed that ‘Malbrouk’ should
have been Marlbourgh (a reference to
the Duke). The melody is now more familiarly
known as "For He’s a Jolly
Good Fellow" and "We
Won’t Go Home ‘til Morning."
I must say that as
a composer, Herr Vogler left me rather
cold. I found the orchestration thin
to say the least (just 2 flutes, 2 horns,
2 bassoons and strings). Perhaps my
aesthetic sense is not as finely tuned
as it ought to be, but I could not make
out "For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow"
in the first track, marked "Tema
(semplice e variato): Larghetto",
nor on any of the eleven short variations,
which followed. After the variations,
a six minute "Capriccio. Fuga:
Molto vivace, Larghetto, Allegro, Larghetto"
that is further designated "Les
Adieux" concludes the work ...
and still no jolliness. Most of the
variations are marked "Allegro"
or "Allegretto" along with
a "Minuetto grazioso" and
two "Larghettos", one marked
other "patetico" added for
balance at the half way and two-thirds
points. Three of them are further marked
"Le Carillon" (the bell tower),
"La Carrozza" (the carriage
or cart or lorry ... I don’t know which)
and "La Caccia" (the hunt)
although I heard no tintinnabulation
or squeaking wheels, just pot-holes.
The staccato motifs bleated out by the
piano in "La Caccia" were
hardly evocative. Perhaps I was expecting
a precursor of Liszt’s "La Campanella"
or maybe I’m just not musically sophisticated
enough to "get it". In my
opinion, the piece is technically proficient,
but hardly a lost masterpiece.
The Czerny was recorded
in excellent, late 1960s stereo sound:
warm, well balanced and with a broad
dynamic range. The same may be said
of the Stamitz, although you may have
to boost the overall volume, because
it was obviously set down at a slightly
lower level than the Czerny. The Vogler,
unfortunately suffers from the sparseness
of the orchestration and from being
recorded in a rather dry, brittle acoustic.
I'm afraid the Italians of the early
1960s didn't have it as together as
their German and Austrian counterparts
did later in the decade.
Two out of three is
not bad and as I said before, the playing
is truly remarkable. Definitely recommended
for fans of the genre.
Gregory W. Stouffer
*With words by Lorenz
Haschka, it was used as the Anthem for
the Austro-Hungarian Empire from 1797
(when F.J. Haydn wrote it for the Emperor’s
birthday) until 1918 when Austria became
a republic. A new anthem was chosen,
but it was never popular and Haydn’s
music was reinstated with new words
by Ottokar Kernstock. After World War
II, Austria chose another anthem Land
der Berge, with words by Paula von Preradovic
and the melody from a Masonic Cantata,
K623a by W.A. Mozart (now thought by
many to be spurious).
+In 1922 Haydn’s tune
became the German National Anthem Deutschland
über Alles with words by August
Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben (1798-1874)
from a poem by Walther von der Vogelweide
(fl. 1200). In 1952 the words to the
German Anthem were changed by substituting
the 3rd verse from the same
poem "Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit"
(Unity, justice and freedom) and keeping