Napravnik, Blumenfeld: Piano Concertos/Soifertis

Review by: Jed Distler

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

Volume 37 in Hyperion’s valuable Romantic Piano Concerto series offers world-premiere recordings of compositions penned by two major figures in late-19th/early-20th century Russian musical life. Eduard Nápravník (1839-1916) served as the Mariinsky Theatre’s chief conductor from 1869 until his death, premiering more than 80 Russian operas and working closely with their composers. Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931) also led a multi-faceted career as a conductor (he worked alongside Nápravník at the Mariinsky), editor, virtuoso pianist, and a highly sought-after piano teacher whose pupils included Simon Barere, Maria Grinberg, and Vladimir Horowitz.

Imagine if Liszt had applied the continuous thematic transformation techniques of his First Concerto to themes excavated from Borodin’s figurative trunk, and you’ll get the idea of how Blumenfeld’s 14-minute Allegro de concert goes about its business. The music may be derivative, but the florid and idiomatic keyboard writing is grist for any aspiring virtuoso’s mill.

It’s harder to get a handle on the somewhat diffuse, square-ish style of Nápravník’s Concerto Symphonique. Some of the first movement’s slashing accents and motoric rhythms foreshadow Prokofiev, while its lyrical moments and the Larghetto’s main theme evoke a more Brahmsian aura. The third movement features two extroverted Russian dance themes, contrasted with a slower, more poetic third theme that’s usually set off by a painfully obvious single note. Interestingly, Nápravník effects more adroit transitions in the relatively discursive and rhapsodic Fantasie russe.

Evgeny Soifertis’ effervescent, colorful virtuosity never fails to delight, and if the BBC Scottish Symphony’s brass seem a little rough around the edges in comparison to their beefier selves on other recordings, they generally respond well to Alexander Titov’s vivacious leadership. Collectors who’ve followed this series from the start need not hesitate.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one

EDUARD NÁPRAVNÍK - Concerto Symphonique in A minor Op. 27; Fantasie russe in B minor Op. 39
FELIX BLUMENFELD - Allegro de concert in A major Op. 7

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