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Spanish And Portuguese Keyboard Music - Volume 1
Antonio SOLER (1729-83) Sonata in C# minor; Sonata in D major. Rafael ANGLES (1730-1816) Aria in D minor. Mateo Perez de ALBENIZ (1755-1831) Sonata in D major. CANTALLOS (born.c.1760) Sonata in C minor. Carlos SEIXAS (1704-1742) Sonata in A minor; Toccata in E minor; Sonata in Bb major; JACINTO (dates unknown) Toccata in D minor; Joao de Sousa CARVALHO (1745-1798) Toccata in G minor
Felicja Blumental - piano
Recording dates and venues not given
BRANA RECORDS BR 0021 [45.40]

Spanish And Portuguese Keyboard Music - Volume 2
ANGLES Adagietto and Fugato in Bb major; SOLER Sonata in G minor; Mateo FERRER (1788-1864) Sonata in D major; Joseph FREXANET (dates unknown) Sonata in A major; Anon Toccata in C major; SEIXAS Fuga in A minor; Sonata in C; Minuet in A minor; Toccata in D minor; Sonata in F minor; Sonata in C minor; Sonata in D minor
Felicja Blumental: piano
Recording dates and venues not given
BRANA RECORDS BR 0022 [53.45]

The CD booklet is rather coy, to say the least, about the origin of these recordings. Felicja Blumental, whose biography is given, was a leading pianist of her day having been born in Warsaw in 1908 and who lived on until 1991 when she died in Tel Aviv.

I assume that these recordings dated from the 1950s or 1960s and are taken from LPs. I can say that with a little confidence as the sound is typically boxy and from time to time little pops and bleeps are audible. I should add though that the ears adjust and one’s enjoyment is not particularly hampered. Even so, surely details on the recording would have added to one’s interest and admiration. After all, I suspect that Blumental recorded this repertoire when early music was not especially fashionable.

She is a typical pianist of her time and it would be wrong to compare her style with modern early music performances. Here slow movements are indeed quite slow but the Allegros are full of crisp finger-work and the use of the sustaining pedal is limited or non-existent. Having won competitions in the 1950s in South America she comes to this Iberian music not as an outsider although it was her Mozart performances which especially caught the critics’ attention at that time. The rather quaintly written but mostly handy booklet notes give us information on the composers although little about the individual pieces. They also tell us that "it was in the 1960s that Felicja Blumental made a speciality of music outside the regular piano repertoire". It goes on to list Clementi, Field, Busoni, Paderewski and Ferdinand Ries as some of her specialities. I was surprised not to see Scarlatti on that list: a) because he is, to all intents and purposes, a Spanish composer and b) because so much of this music is unimaginable without Scarlatti.

Many of you might well want this music played on the harpsichord anyway. I have heard Seixas’s sonatas work excellently well on the organ, but a sensitive pianist does have certain expressive advantages over a harpsichord; they can make second-rate music more interesting. Am I alone in finding Scarlatti, for example, more acceptable on the harpsichord than, say, Handel?

As for the music itself I cannot make out much of a case for most of it. Carlos Seixas is strongly represented and although I couldn’t rate him anything better than a second-rater, much of his work is distinctly tuneful, as in the Sonata in C’s movement 1. It is also often quite rhythmical as in the curious two movement F minor sonata which, in its slow movement, is quite touching. The Toccata in E minor is formally an interesting experiment being in three movements officially but really in two with a brief and affecting Adagio introduction to the second movement, a Minuet. Oddly enough the middle movement of Seixas’s D minor Sonata is a Giga which is followed by a Minuet. Perhaps he knew his J.S. Bach. Seixas’s so-called Fuga is really a two movement Sonata that is little more than unusually contrapuntal with the fugue being somewhat limp and only a weak succession of imitative entries. Nevertheless it is an interesting piece.

Antonio Soler is almost a clone of Scarlatti yet it is fascinating to see him experimenting in the otherwise uncommon key of C# minor with one or two distant modulations. He was a priest yet one who was obviously allowed to compose freely. Angles and Jacinto were also ‘Brothers’ but little of their work survives.

It was quite fun to discover that Frexanet’s one movement sonata has the same rhythm at Bernstein’s ‘America’. Bernstein calls it a ‘Huapanga’ rhythm in the score but it is simply six quavers followed by three crotchets. Also it is delightful to discover the beautifully melancholy Sonata in one movement by Cantallos of whom we have no more works and of whom we know nothing. This is a binary form sonata, the form favoured by Scarlatti. Like Scarlatti, counterpoint is out, in favour of a melodically superior ‘galant’ style which was popular c.1730; a date suitable for many of the pieces recorded here.

So, to sum up. These CDs are arguably period pieces but the repertoire is of interest from a rarity value and the performances are true to the music and to the time in which they were recorded. Worth exploring.

Gary Higginson

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