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Felicja Blumental – Friends and Rivals: Beethoven and Hoffmeister
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Op. 15 (1798)
Franz Anton HOFFMEISTER (1754-1812)

Piano Concerto in D major (publ. 1787)
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Vienna Symphony Orchestra/Robert Wagner (Beethoven), recorded Innsbruck 1962
Prague Chamber Orchestra/Alberto Zedda, recorded Milan 1967
BRANA RECORDS BR 0009 [72.26]

Reclamation of pianist Felicja Blumental’s legacy continues apace. I associate her, on record at least, with a kind of discographic bridge spanning from Hoffmeister and Clementi to Villa-Lobos and beyond. Brana does for her here pretty much what Ivory Classics has been doing for other distinguished pianists and that’s all to the good. And if this disc doesn’t quite conjure up quite such anticipation it’s because one might have preferred one of Blumental’s other pianistic disinterments to a reading, however grand and spacious, of Beethoven’s First Concerto.

I’m a little confused about her discography in general. She recorded the cycle of Beethoven Concertos with the capable Robert Wagner, a series available in the 1960s on LP and claimed to be, if my memory’s right, by the Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra. Here Brana ascribe it as the Vienna Symphony, in a recording made in Innsbruck in 1962 – so presumably the earlier set was flying under a flag of geographical convenience in the way so many small label discs did. It’s a big-boned and quite slow reading with solid string entries, a sensitive shaping of the slow movement and a powerful cadenza. The Hoffmeister meanwhile is echt Mozartian. Unlike the big band Mozart we have the lean sound of the Prague Chamber Orchestra under Alberto Zedda. All the graces are here, with a Mannheim crescendo, delicious key modulations and finely etched – perhaps rather too vertiginous - diminuendos, and a lyrical curve. The slow movement is songfully pensive and the finale one of those Haydnesque japes that sound like variations on ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ – and laced with decorative rococo fun.

The sound is rather unsubtle in the Beethoven and is inclined to a degree of coldness in the Hoffmeister but Brana has done well to rid the disc of extraneous LP detritus. There is, in truth, little more that they could have done to aerate these recordings. It’s certainly good to have Blumental’s sensitive musicianship back in the catalogue.

Jonathan Woolf


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