Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor, Op. 23 [31:03]
Felicja Blumental (piano)
Orchestra of the Vienna Musikgesellschaft/Michael Gielen
rec. Vienna, 1957
180g vinyl, 33 rpm

Felicja Blumental was not averse to exploring the little-known backwaters of the piano concerto repertoire, dusting down for Vox/Turnabout such rarities as those by Viotti, Platti, Czerny, Field, Paisiello and Stamitz. I even found a recording of a Leopold Kozeluch Concerto on the obscure Auditorium Records label. Her championing of the unsung was admirable. Here she’s on terra firma with a 1957 recording of the ubiquitous Tchaikovsky 1. It previously surfaced on a Vox LP coupled with Rachmaninov 2, and Brana Records issued it on CD several years ago alongside a 1968 recording of the Arensky Piano Concerto in F minor, Op. 2 (BR0013 - review).

She was born in Warsaw into a musical family in 1908 and studied at the National Conservatory, counting Karol Szymanowski and Stefan Askenase amongst her teachers. In 1938 she relocated to Brazil with her husband Markus Mizne to escape the anti-Semitism that was then burgeoning in Europe. Here she adopted Brazilian citizenship. She later made homes in Milan and London. Heitor Villa-Lobos, Krzysztof Penderecki and Witold Lutoslawski have all dedicated works to her. She died in Tel Aviv in 1991.

The first movement’s opening certainly packs a punch, and there’s a striking directness in the way neither pianist nor conductor are prepared to hang around. Blumental plays with commanding authority. In the lyrical second subject she voices the chords to perfection. Gielen proves a sensitive and supportive collaborator. The slow movement has a warm, inward quality, overflowing with beguiling innocence and rapt intensity. In the central Prestissimo, her gossamer runs have a pearl-like delicacy and translucence, with Gielen contouring the woodwind phrases eloquently. The finale has bite and tenacity and is never flaccid. It’s confident abandon is another winning factor.

In a MusicWeb International review of BR0013 from June 2004 John Leeman writes, in reference to this recording: "Simultaneously thin and harsh with a piano sound that quickly decays …". Unfortunately I’ve never had the opportunity to hear the CD equivalent, but whatever Brana have done in the re-mastering for the LP, they have obviously performed a miracle. The vibrant, spacious audio quality sounds as though it could have been recorded at a much later date. In fact, I have to say that it’s an improvement on some contemporary recordings. There’s depth and perspective to the orchestral sound, and the pianist is positioned to the left of centre, conveying a standard concert hall ambience.

All told, it brings a well-worn work to life, adding freshness and vitality. At a time when vinyl is making a comeback, this will surely be something to treasure for LP aficionados. Brana Records, established in 2002, have reinstated many of Blumental’s recordings to circulation. All of their CD covers feature her husband’s art work. The impressive, colourful LP cover looks to be in a similar style, though no attribution is stated as far as I can see.

Stephen Greenbank