Blumental was born in Warsaw in 1908. She studied at the
national Conservatory with Szymanowski and with the piano
teachers Joseph Goldberg and Zbigniew Drzewiecki amongst
others. With the outbreak of World War II she was forced
into exile, first in Europe and then, from 1942, in Brazil.
She worked there, collaborating with figures such as Villa-Lobos
and developing a particular insight into the music of South
America. She returned to Europe only in 1954. Her recordings,
which are now being extensively reissued by Brana, ranged
very widely. Her choice of repertoire was adventurous and
eclectic – not too many pianists, surely, have recorded works
by, to name but a few, Villa-Lobos and Paisiello, Kozeluch
and Carlos Seixas, Vincenzo Manfredini and Ries, Czerny and
Hekel Tavares, as well as more ‘mainstream’ names such as
Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Grieg. For reviews of some
of these (and more) see the end of the review.
Blumental died in Tel Aviv on December 28, 1991.
present CD takes her back to her Polish roots and features
music by two very different, yet quintessentially Polish,
figures. Paderewski’s life, as is well-known was multi-faceted.
A touring pianist - a performer of great charisma - he was,
in addition, a statesman and an orator, a fluent linguist
and a generous humanitarian. He was also a composer, largely,
though not exclusively, of works that he might himself perform
(but see Małgorzata Perkowska’s article “Unknown Compositions
by Paderewski” in the Polish Music Journal, 4(2),
2001, available online).
His Piano Concerto in A minor is made up of two somewhat
excessively grandiloquent outer movements and a central nocturne-like Romanza
andante. Blumental’s reading of the two outer movements,
while interesting, lacks the sheer bravura of Earl Wild’s
dazzling performance with the LSO and Arthur Fiedler (originally
on RCA and reissued on Elan 2266) or the sophisticated finesse
of that by Piers Lane (with Jerzy Maksymiuk and the BBC Scottish
Symphony Orchestra) on Hyperion CDA66452
(see review). The
central Romanza is as attractive as any composition by Paderewski
that I have heard, and Blumental is heard at
her best here, her playing poetic and free of excessive sugar,
winningly elegant and expressive. No date is given for this
recording, but it presumably belongs to much the same period
as the 1972 recording of Penderecki’s Partita. The recorded
sound is acceptable, but not much more. In the performance
of the Polish Fantasy the sound is not so good, though there
is plenty to enjoy in Blumental’s performance, which does
justice to the insistent rhythms of the mazurka and which
radiates energy and enjoyment. The Polish Fantasy is musically
rather slight, but Blumental makes an attractively persuasive
case for it, and her performance makes for an enjoyable twenty
minutes’ worth of belated Romanticism.
For me, however, by far the most valuable item on this CD
is Blumental’s interpretation of Penderecki’s remarkable
Partita for Harpsichord. Blumental was the dedicatee of this
work, commissioned for the 50th anniversary of
the Eastman School of Music, and gave the first performance.
Penderecki’s score juxtaposes a kind of concertino group
of harpsichord, electric guitar, bass guitar, harp and double
bass and an orthodox chamber orchestra. It says a great deal
for Blumental’s range - and musical open-mindedness - that
she could undertake so wholeheartedly, a piece as challenging
and unorthodox as this, and bring it off so successfully.
This is the early(ish) Penderecki of tone clusters and blocks
of sound, of unexpected instrumental effects and fierce,
buzzing energy – and Blumental plays it as if to the manner
born. The results are exhilarating, a furious marvel of passionate
concentration, of scurrying, disturbing, satisfying, contrasts
of sound, at times almost threatening, at others oddly and
bewilderingly beautiful. Though I don’t have it to hand for
comparison, I did once hear the 1980s (?) recording by Elzbieta
Stefanska-Lukowicz with the South West German Radio Symphony
Orchestra, also conducted by Penderecki. That was a fine
performance, and had the benefit of better recorded sound.
But this 1972 recording has a special authority, and in any
case, has musical merit of a high order.
Admirers and collectors of Penderecki will surely want to
own this premiere recording of the Partita. Whether they
will also enjoy the less than perfect recordings of Paderewski’s
two confections I am not sure. Buy it for the splendid and
authoritative performance of the Partita and see if your
tolerance doesn’t stretch to enjoyment – or at any rate partial
enjoyment – of the works by Paderewski. Mine did.
our partner ArkivMusic
Reviews of Felicja Blumental's recordings on Brana
BR0008 - Concertos by Mozart and Clementi
Concertos by Beethoven and Hoffmeister
Concertos by Tchaikovsky and Arensky
BR0014 - The Spinning Girl
Concertos by Schumann and Kuhlau
BR0017 - Chopin Waltzes
Concertos by Viotti and Piatti
BR0026 - Concertos by Manfredini and Paisiello