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Eduard NÁPRAVNIK (1839-1916)
Concerto Symphonique in A minor Op. 27 (1877) [31:15]
Fantasie russe in B minor Op. 39 (1881) [12:19]
Felix BLUMENFELD (1863-1931)
Allegro de concert in A major Op. 7 (1889) [13:54]
Evgeny Soifertis (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Alexander Titov
Recorded at the Caird Hall, Dundee, 15-16 Sept 2004. DDD
The Romantic Piano Concerto series: Vol. 37
HYPERION CDA67511 [57:44]



I knew only one fact about these two composers before I opened this CD: Felix Blumenfeld was Vladimir Horowitz’s piano teacher. I assume the lessons were at an advanced stage and not ‘five finger exercises’. 

The Hyperion website makes the gloriously understated claim that Eduard Nápravník is not a household name. Absolutely! Yet it is the general philosophy of this great series of Romantic Piano Concertos that exploration into the remotest comers of the music library will disclose hidden masterpieces.  So fame and glory is not a sine qua non!

The problem is that sometimes a work is discovered or revived that should have been left on the shelf. Then again, every so often the work is truly a lost masterpiece and well deserves accession to the canon of concerted music for piano. But perhaps the most likely result is that we find a work that is good or perhaps even great. However it does not cross the threshold of genius. If for a moment we think of the best known and loved piano concertos of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century we must include Tchaikovsky in B minor, Rachmaninov Second and Third, Grieg in A minor. The rest lies in that vast area of subjective opinion. What turns you on will leave me cold and what bores me will move you to tears!  But I think all will be agreed that the above named works are timeless and essential to musical history – even if they are not our particular favourites.  They are, if you like, the ‘gold standard’ of all works in this genre.

I enjoyed the three works on this CD immensely. The playing by Evgeny Soifertis is exhilarating. He has breathed life into these long forgotten works: all of them are premiere recordings. He reveals them as exciting, immediate and full of poetry. Alexander Titov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra take these works to their hearts. They are played with great commitment.  And Hyperion have given an excellent sound recording and exceptional programme notes. No works could be better presented to the public purview. And yet ...?

Much as I enjoyed these works; much as I appreciated the technical skill of the composers and the pianist, I am left with little doubt as to why these works were relegated to the archive whereas Tchaik 1 was not.  Why?  Sometimes both Nápravník and Blumenfeld are trying just a little hard. Much of the musical fabric of these works seems to me to be composed to order. Derogatory as this may seem I feel that they perhaps lack integrity. They are quite deliberately designed as ‘pot-boilers’. I am not sure that they move me.

It is superfluous for me to describe these works in detail.  The programme notes give an excellent musical and historical analysis. Furthermore this is available for review on the Hyperion web pages.

However, to change my tune completely: my criticisms do not matter. It is a false premise that all musical works have to be suffused with genius. It is not necessary for every concerto to enter protesting into heaven. There is a huge space for works that are just enjoyable and offer sheer listening delight and pleasure. These three works fall into this category. They make life brighter and more fun, even if they do not change the way we view the stuff of the universe. And I suppose that there are probably many more works just like this waiting to be discovered, dusted down and given an airing. Hyperion must keep on doing this job that they do so well. It is vital to ensure that the musical public is not just fed a diet of a few hackneyed (albeit great) masterworks.

What I do wonder, though is that if these three works will retain their place in the piano concerto canon. That is perhaps where I have my doubt.

John France

Romantic Piano Concerto series




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