Felicja Blumental

The Italian Collection, Vol. 1

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Felicja Blumental was a Brazilian pianist of Polish birth and training. Active from the 1950s until her death in 1991, she specialized, well in advance of the vogue, in works by Classical and Romantic composers who were popular in their own times but are now largely forgotten. A series of Blumental reissues on England's Brana label (run by her daughter Annette Celine) has thus unearthed quite a few works that are otherwise unavailable; those interested in the music of the Haydn and Beethoven eras are encouraged to seek these recordings out. This disc features a Piano Concerto in G minor by Giovanni Battista Viotti, the great violin virtuoso of the years around 1800. This piano concerto is a transcription of Viotti's Violin Concerto No. 19 in G minor, made by Daniel Steibelt, a pianist whose chief claim to fame was that he was humiliated by Beethoven in a Vienna piano competition as each improvised on a theme that eventually became the opening melody of Beethoven's Symphony No. 3. One might wonder about the relevance of a transcription of a work that is itself fairly obscure to begin with, but this was music that Beethoven would likely have known well. The concerto is noteworthy for the vast ground plans of its outer movements (it's nearly 40 minutes long in all); if they don't necessarily contain music that will leave you humming after hearing them, they do hold far-flung materials nicely in balance. The Steibelt transcription is so idiomatic that you'd never suspect that you were listening to anything other than a genuine piano concerto. Blumental gives a controlled performance that yields what's best in the work, and the Torino Symphony Orchestra in this 1967 performance under conductor Alberto Zedda is sympathetic to her aims.

The disc also includes two concertos by the almost unknown Giovanni Benedetto Platti, an Italian who worked in Würzburg in Bach's time. Their chief interest resides in their unusually active solo parts, which the annotator contends may have been written under the influence of the earliest pianos; the slow movements indeed contain antiphonal effects that suggest loud-soft contrasts. The recordings of these two concertos date from 1968, and the Salzburg Symphony Orchestra under Theodor Guschlbauer is shrill in both execution and recorded sound. By modern standards, these are not idiomatic interpretations of works of the middle eighteenth century. Yet Blumental brought enthusiasm to these unusual works, and the recording as a whole is of more than historical interest.

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