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Edvard GRIEG (1943-1907)
Piano Concerto in A minor Op. 16 (1869) [30:39]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)

Fantasie for piano and orchestra Op. 111 [14:30]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)/Ferruccio BUSONI (1866-1924)

Rhapsodie Espagnole S524 (1863) [16:16]
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Vienna Pro Musica Orchestra/Hans Swarovski [Grieg]
Philharmonia Orchestra/Rudolf Schwarz [Faure]
Prague Symphony Orchestra/Helmut Froschauer [Liszt/Busoni]
No recording dates or venues indicated
BRANA BR0015 [61:08]

This continues the series of Blumental performances that Brana has been releasing. Known for her championing of unusual repertoire, it is a touch surprising to find the Grieg concerto here. The inclusion of a warhorse is made up for by the fact that its mates here are two rarely recorded works: the Faure Fantasie and the Liszt/Busoni Rhapsodie Espagnole.

Born in Poland and a pupil of Szymanowski, Blumental settled in Brazil and spent the next decade there. Several composers dedicated works to her; Villa-Lobos with his fifth piano concerto, Penderecki with his partita for harpsichord and orchestra, and Lutosławski’s orchestration of his Paganini variations. Since her death in 1991, her recordings, as well as her fame, have faded. It is to Brana’s credit that these recordings are being re-released.

Sadly Brana disappoint in that, for these historic performances, no information is given regarding dates or venue. Sound quality also varies widely. The Fauré, in itself a find, as it is rarely performed, is the best sounding of the bunch. The remastering has cleaned up the recording, and there is a good dynamic change in the crescendi. The Liszt/Busoni has more tape hiss, but more presence and brightness than the Fauré, and certainly better than the Grieg.

The Grieg performance is very oddly unbalanced, with the treble side of the keyboard coming almost entirely out of the left channel, the bass side coming from the right, and all the time the orchestra struggling in the muddy distance. The overall effect on a good sound system is strange. It is very difficult to listen to on headphones, giving the impression that one is going deaf in one ear. This is a pity, as Blumental here is solid overall, playing some of the passages with a certain urgency, but with an ear to restraint — the comment about Horowitz’s focus on the many levels of pianissimo comes to mind. The pity here is that at times the levels of pianissimo get somewhat lost.

Blumental’s performances are good, and this disc is worth picking up for the Fauré and the Liszt/Busoni. The Grieg, though well played, is far better presented elsewhere and was unnecessary to include in this series of re-releases. Perhaps Brana will also include more information on the performances in future discs.

David Blomenberg



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