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Availability BRANA RECORDS

Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor Op.23 (1875) [30.58]
Anton ARENSKY (1861-1906)

Piano Concerto in F minor Op.2 (1882) [25.01]
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Orchestra of the Vienna Musikgesselschaft/Michael Gielen, recorded Vienna, 1967 (Tchaikovsky)
Brno Philharmonic Orchestra/Jiři Waldhans, recorded Milan, 1968 (Arensky)

BRANA RECORDS BR0013 [58.06]

In almost all respects I am in total agreement with my colleague John Leeman’s excellent review of this disc. So much so in fact that I find myself paraphrasing the points he made, all of which I can independently verify.

For a start there’s the Tchaikovsky recording quality. The solo piano pounds out of the left channel whilst the orchestral sound picture swirls between the two channels. At one or two points in the more intimate reveries of the first movement the left hand piano channel is answered with chamber delicacy by the right hand channel wind choirs. The effect, frankly, is bizarre, one of the most singular examples of left/right channel separation I’ve ever heard. It renders most of the concerto baffling to listen to. Blumental, most of whose Brana recordings I’ve reviewed on this site, is always an artist of authority and sensitivity. Here she tends to be surer with refinement and sensitivity than with bravura. She sounds curiously, deliberately, gabbled in the first movement, almost as if she was treating this as an exercise in anti-majestic phrasing. Elsewhere whilst her fingers are razor sharp one doesn’t feel she was in especially sympathetic a mood. Gielen – or the recording engineers – can’t do much with the thin and acidic orchestral strings ands there’s a want of sonority and weight for which the 1957 recording date is surely only incidental.

The Arensky thankfully is a better performance all round. She was accompanied by Waldhans, a conductor admired by Czech music lovers, in particular, for his Fibich symphonies. The Arensky has received a few recordings over the years – probably Stephen Coombs’ Hyperion is the best engineered and most tactile in its drive – but this 1968 recording has plenty to recommend it. Portentous and dramatic, the Lisztian opening coalesces with Chopinesque reflections. Blumental is at her very best in the flexibility of her cantabile playing in the opening movement but the slow movement is equally fine. The restrained tempo of the finale has compensation in the shape of some very rustic and folkish wind playing, stern brass and a fine percussion section.

Collectors may want to know that the Arensky was available in America on Ars Classicum CD 115939.

Blumental admirers who have followed the series thus far will want to acquaint themselves with her performances; generalists should certainly hear the Arensky if they’ve not already – it’s a most attractive, big-boned but poetic piece, blustery but intimate and clearly taking something of Tchaikovsky’s bombast on board. As for the latter concerto – prepare for an aural ride of spectacular weirdness.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by John Leeman




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