It’s good to see Brana
back on form after a slight hiatus with
their last release. Here they do what
they’ve done consistently well; restoring
Felicja Blumental’s legacy in sensible
compilations – unusual repertoire played
in the main by European chamber orchestras
and recorded by smaller labels, such
as Turnabout, in the 1960s.
This disc bears the
title Variations, which certainly
applies to the Czerny and Vogler though
not to the Stamitz Concerto in F major.
Czerny based his theme on Haydn’s well
known Gott erhalte den Kaiser
(better know now as Deutschland über
Alles) and he presents an Introduction,
statement of the theme, five variations,
an adagio and to conclude a strong finale.
One has to acknowledge here the rather
raw sound and the very up-front piano
placement, both casualties of 1960s
setups. The Introduction is somewhat
portentous and reminiscent of Beethoven,
whilst the theme is stated by the piano
then restated by the flute with gracious
simplicity, around which the piano spins
some arabesques. Czerny was something
of a master of variation form and we
hear great colour and invention and
orchestral incident. Variation four
for instance features some fine strutting
piano – rugged and powerful – whilst
No.5 is stormily intense and sombre
with an almost vocalised lyrical impulse.
Notice how Czerny gives the melody to
various sections of the orchestra and
allows the solo piano to decorate nimbly
is a variation-free zone. He employs
the Mannheim crescendo as well as anyone
and the writing is warm, lithe, echt-Classical.
The piano is more backwardly placed
than was the case with the Czerny, slightly
too much so in fact as it becomes a
touch submerged in the balance. A real
high point is the chamber intimacy conjured
textually in the slow movement. Stamitz
gives lines to section leaders and there’s
a real sense of give and take here.
It helps that Blumental was an experienced
chamber player and she sparkles in the
spirited, uncomplicated finale.
Vogler is the least
well known of the trio of composers.
Well connected in Mannheim he had his
own music school and developed something
of a reputation as a controversialist.
His 1791 Variations on Marlborough
s’en va-t-en-guerre are probably
the least consistently interesting work
of the three though still not without
interest. The sound is slightly veiled
and the variations are rather repetitious
with little overt signs of the advanced
harmonies for which Vogler was known.
I liked the baroque inflexions of Variation
9 and the wittily unserious fugue that
runs through the finale.
Brana has done what
it can with the original tapes given
the inherent problems of the original
recordings But moments of pre-echo and
print through on the tapes are audible
very occasionally, and it’s probably
the case that they’ve only had commercial
LPs from which to work. But a return
to form, as I said, in sensitive and
warm 1960s performances.