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Felix BLUMENFELD (1863-1931)
Piano Works
Préludes Op.17 No’s 1,10,19,20 [10:19]
Nocturne-Fantaisie Op.20 [9:52]
Variations caracteristiques Op.8 [16:00]
Une nuit à Magaratch Op.61 [5:33]
Etude Op.54 [1:59]
Sonata-Fantasia Op.46 [22:05]
Karl-Andreas Kolly (piano)
rec. 2017, Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmünster
MDG 904 2074-6 SACD [65:55]

Felix Blumenfeld is slowly making his way into the record catalogue, and MWI has featured reviews of his Symphony here, Preludes and Impromptus, here and Allegro de Concert, here.

He was born in the Ukraine of Jewish-Polish parents and was related to Szymanowski through his mother, who was the later composer’s Great-Aunt. This is an interesting point – anyone who has read Alistair Wightman’s superb biography of Szymanowski, will be aware of his anti-Semitism.

Blumenfeld became a pianist, opera conductor and conservatory professor. However, his performing career was cut short, firstly by paralysis of his left hand in 1908 and later by a stroke in 1918, and so he devoted himself to teaching and composing. His list of compositions contains a large numerical majority of solo piano works with a small number of chamber pieces, orchestral pieces and choral/vocal works.

This beautifully presented SACD contains a cross section of his piano output, including his sole sonata. It begins with the Prelude Op.17 No.10, wherein the lyrical cantilenas make a very nice opening impression. The earliest work included is the Op.6 ‘Une nuit à Magaratch’, which has a tuneful main theme of slightly oriental character and in this respect follows the tradition of Balakirev and the Moguchaya kuchka. Incidentally, Magaratch is located in the Crimea and is known today for its grape varieties. Another early piece is the 16-minute Op.8 ‘Variations caracteristiques’; it is built around an opening Nocturne – a delicate andante which sounds like a folk-tune, and which presents a great contrast to the full-blown development

The latest piece; the Op.54 Etude was composed in 1927, at a time when the Soviet Musical authorities were not much affected by Stalin, who had succeeded Lenin only three years earlier, and were allowing atonality to be explored. Blumenfeld would have none of it, and this tempestuous study shows the influence of Chopin, as do many of the works here.

By far the most impactive work is the Op.46 Sonata-Fantasia, in which Blumenfeld achieves an almost orchestral fullness of sonority at the beginning of the opening movement. The slow movement, for the most part magical in its limpid textures, rises to an impassioned climax about half way through its 8-minute span. The finale begins in declamatory style, which quickly subsides only to build again through a series of ascending chords that mutate into a whirling display of rapid figurations. This subsides into a more controlled, but still fervent central section, which becomes virtuosic again in the lead up to the final couple of minutes – the pianist on his mettle here through to the final apotheosis.

This is a most enjoyable recording. I have listened to it in 2-channel stereo via an SACD player and also using an ordinary CD player. Dabringhaus und Grimm make much of their recording philosophy detailed in the booklet, and suffice to say that they aim for a genuine sound reproduction exhibiting a natural vividness. Recording locations are carefully chosen so that their acoustic does not adversely impact on the recording, and I must say that this is a lovely sounding piano – the engineers have achieved their aims.

Jim Westhead



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