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Fryderyk CHOPIN
Piano Concerto in F minor Op. 21
No. 1 in B minor Op. 20
No. 2 in B flat minor Op. 31
No. 3 in C sharp minor Op. 39
No. 4 in E major Op. 54
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Innsbruck Symphony Orchestra/Robert Wagner
Recorded New York, 1960 (Scherzos); Concerto undated
BRANA RECORDS BR 0010 [71.58]

Felicja Blumental was born in Warsaw in 1908. A composition student of Szymanowski she studied the piano with two eminent musicians – Joseph Goldberg and pedagogue Zbigniew Drzewiecki, who also taught the much younger British pianist Joyce Hatto. She lived in Brazil for a number of years before a European return in 1954 and made something of a reputation as a specialist in out of the way early nineteenth century music (Clementi, Field, Hummel and Kozeluch amongst others, much of which she recorded). She died in 1991.

Her Chopin, given her distinguished lineage, is impressive. The Scherzi are buoyant and alertly musical, athletic but sensitive. Her pianism is notably well balanced, there are no unseemly rubati though the playing can be dramatically engaging when the music requires it. In the B minor for example she is scrupulous in maintaining a flowing tempo and not slowing for contrastive passages, eschewing overly demonstrative gestures and remaining cogent and well scaled (pity about the split penultimate chord). The B flat minor – indeed all four Scherzi – are entirely consonant with her playing of the B minor. The left hand crescendi are precisely graded and controlled, the crescendo itself perfectly timed – and absolutely no forcing through the tone. This is not, lest I by omission imply it, merely "pretty" Chopin playing, decorative and tidy; it’s frequently compelling and quite free of artifice and superficiality.

The Concerto in F minor has rather a hobbling studio acoustic – very spacious but dry. The strings therefore have both a sense of spatial distance and also of glassiness, which is not always very attractive. But Blumental adopts a splendid equilibrium between self-assertion and simplicity. Careful not to over-romanticise, hers is a strong, directional and sensitive account with highpoints in the Larghetto where her affecting little pauses and idiomatic pointing after the ascending and descending runs are winning features. Subtle ones, too, frequently elided or ignored by others. One gets the impression listening to her Chopin of a musician of integrity and experience and a genuine thoughtfulness.

Given the relative age of the recordings and the rather subfusc sound of the Concerto I hope reader won’t be dissuaded from considering Blumental’s Chopin; she has qualities that mark her out as a player of distinction. I shall be reviewing a couple more of her Brana re-releases soon and many of the qualities I admire in her Chopin are present in those as well. This is a most worthwhile retrieval and a salute to a musician of significant stature.

Jonathan Woolf



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