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Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1894)
Piano Quintet in F major Op.55
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)

Piano Quintet in B flat (Op. posthumous)
Felicja Blumental (piano)
members of the New Philharmonia Wind Ensemble: Gareth Morris (flute), John McCaw (clarinet), Nicolas Busch (horn), Gwydion Brooke (bassoon)
Recorded Chelsea, London, August 1979
BRANA RECORDS BR 0019 [60.38]

This chamber collaboration came in 1979, toward the end of Felicja Blumental’s active recording career. She was seventy-one at the time but was still in characteristically fine fettle and proves an excellent colleague. This series of Brana restorations usually shows her as a concerto or concertante soloist but she was a most adept partner, capable of phrasal plasticity and sympathy and so it proves here.

The brace of piano quintets includes the F major by Anton Rubinstein, as a proponent of whose music she was loyal, imaginative and successful – as other Brana releases attest. She has the support of some stellar London wind players, drawn from the ranks of the New Philharmonia whose name they took as a working group. The recording captured them with good balance and blend. This is nowhere more apparent than in the big-boned but lyrical opening movement, where they judge its blend of rhetoric and romantic reprieve with acumen. Blumental’s witty piano flecks the Scherzo with Brooke’s lugubrious bassoon (Brana misspell his surname) in the trio section adding incorrigible wit to the proceedings. Do listen to her supportive rolled chords as she accompanies his plaintive song. Nicolas Busch stars in the slow movement, which he takes at a good and bracing tempo and one can admire the tact and security of the contributions of Morris and McCaw in the finale. Here the slower section is well controlled within a lyric framework; they seem invariably the find just the right tempo variations to make this quintet work.

The companion work, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Quintet was published posthumously. It’s a less obviously imposing, three movement work but mellifluousness is its middle name. The Allegro flows with liquid ease, its romantic affiliations clear but much lighter and less pressing than the Rubinstein. The slow movement has an airy grace and an Elysian quality, all glinty and colouristic and also some folk motifs that spice the score. The finale opens as a springy promenade and develops flexible and imaginative drive. Maybe not a profound work and one that doesn’t touch the depths – but tremendously good fun and played here with panache and great skill.

The notes are not extensive but they’re to the point. The recordings were first class back in 1979 and the remastering has done them proud. Plaudits all round.

Jonathan Woolf

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