Blumenfeld: Piano Music - Kolly

Blumenfeld: Piano Music - Kolly

MDG Scene  904 2074-6

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Instrumental

Blumenfeld: Sonata-Fantasia, Op. 46, Preludes Op. 17 Nos 1, 10, 19 & 20, Nocturne-Fantaisie, Op. 20, Variations caracteristiques, Op. 8; Nocturne 'Une nuit a Magaratch', Op. 6 No. 1, Etüde, Op. 54

Karl-Andreas Kolly (piano)

Chopin’s World
How might one combine the worldly elegance of a Chopin with the so very “heavy” chromaticism of Wagner’s Tristan? Felix Blumenfeld, today almost entirely forgotten as a composer, knew the answer to this question – as his Prélude op. 17, No. 19 impressively demonstrates. However, before this so very original gem, which is only one of the highlights on our Blumenfeld CD, concludes this program, Karl-Andreas Kolly has a whole series of other surprises ready that will make the hearts of fans of Russian piano virtuosity and other interested listeners beat a little faster.

Wagner’s Champion
Blumenfeld very much has his place in the legendary phalanx of great Russian virtuosos/composers including his great model Anton Rubinstein and his own pupil Vladimir Horowitz. Nevertheless, he regularly develops an individual language rooted not least in the deep veneration in which he held Frédéric Chopin, though this did not keep him, in his capacity as a sought-after conductor, from lending his support to the introduction and dissemination of Wagner’s operas in Russia. He also repeatedly included the music of Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov (the latter having been his teacher in Moscow) on performance programs, even if it meant having to defy his superiors.

In Touch
“Nocturne-Fantaisie,” “Sonate-Fantaisie,” “Variations caractéristiques” – the titles of Blumenfeld’s compositions already show that formal strictness was not his thing. This practice meant that he was very much in touch with his times and knew precisely what the demanding music public wanted. German critics schooled on Brahms and Beethoven did not unanimously approve of this approach, though they admiringly agreed on two things: Blumenfeld’s originality and wealth of ideas.

On Track
Karl-Andreas Kolly’s Josef Suk retrospective continues to be fondly remembered, and his Blumenfeld CD again traces a path taking us to a piano repertoire that has been neglected for much too long. And this production brimming with musical discoveries has been produced with high-resolution Super Audio CD technology – as an original 2+2+2 Recording featuring MDG’s three-dimensional sound, for pure, next-to-nature recital pleasure.

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Reviews (1)

Review by John Miller - July 14, 2018

Dabringhaus und Grimm present an SACD piano recital by Felix Mikhailovich Blumenfeld (1863-1921), of Polish descent. Most present-day pianists have never even heard of his music, I certainly haven’t. An almost unknown Russian composer, pianist and teacher of the late 19th and early 20th of the late Romantic prompted me to investigate why his name hardly appeared in the West.

Blumenfeld was born in Kovalecka, a place which would be regarded now to be part of Ukraine. Brother and Mother encouraged music, and his two older brothers were musically accomplished. Young Felix entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory for study of composition under the famous Rimsky-Korsakov and piano under Alexander Stein between1881-1885. Graduating in 1885 with a gold medal, he immediately began to teach piano in the Conservatory, and in 1897 became professorial. However, he resigned in protest at dismissal of Rimsky-Korsakov in the 1905 uprising, taking on the post of conductor of the Maryinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.
This theatre saw the premières of the operas composed by his teacher and mentor Rimsky-Korsakov, and he was also the conductor at the Russian première of Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde. He was interested now in working beyond Russia, and in 1908, he conducted the Paris première of Modest Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov.
He recovered his attachment to the Conservatory, where he returned as another teacher until 1918. As a handsome and libertine man, he contracted syphilis around this period, and this at times interfered with his piano playing, particularly stiffening of his left arm. A bravura Étude in A flat major op. 36 for the left hand is probably the greatest success of the remains of his published music these days.

Blumenfeld was back in the Conservatory in 1912, continuing until 1918. His disease removed much of his practical virtuosity; but he was a professor nonetheless. Vladimir Horowitz was one of his highly effective Blumenfeld pupils, but there is no record of Horowitz playing one of his teacher’s pieces despite Blumenfeld – little gratitude from Vladimir. Moving once again, Blumenfeld arrived in the Moscow Conservatory and work under another professorship until his death in 1931.

As a pianist, he played many of the compositions of his Russian contemporaries. His compositions, which showed the influence of Frédéric Chopin and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, include a symphony, many pieces and sets for solo piano, an Allegro de Concert for piano and orchestra (the nearest piece to a piano concerto), and lieder (of which there is not much information). Publication of his works was dominated by his works for solo piano, and most were printed in Russia. Eminent publishers of Vienna and Leipzig took over the scores, so Europe produced a brief knowledge of his excellent pianism.

Felix Blumenfeld had a complex life, and up to now his history is sketchy. I have given my account here, based on info of several networks. However, the author of the SACD’s booklet, Walter Labhart, gives us most interesting new material, filling in as “new”, giving much more of the life of Felix, and at the end of this, gives handy comments in the musical examples. On this disc, Dabringhaus und Grumm give us a programme of piano works, not full-sets but selections, e.g. Prélude op. 17, 01,19, 20. Total sound is 65’55.

Pianist Karl-Andreas Kolly presumably was also involved in building this SACD programme. Kolly is a Swiss pianist who, as a chamber musician, plays all over Europe, in Japan, China, Korea, Australia, the USA. He also plays with a variety of orchestras in Eastern Europe. Kolly has recorded more than 80 discs, including almost all the works of Chopin and Liszt, which gives him a kind of parallel favouritism with Blumenfeld. Karl-Andreas is also a Professor at the Zurich Art University, giving him further understanding of Blumenfeld.

Another fine contribution to the building of this programme is its using a Steinway Concert Grand Piano D, 1901, “Manfred Büeki”. Generally described as the first choice of most concert pianists. However, for this purpose, I felt that Steinway brilliance was rather emphasised in the Konzerthaus der Abtei Marienmüster, with only light reverberation. On the other hand, energetic and powerful passages have an almost fullness of sonority.

Having listening to this SACD several times, getting more delight each time. From the softest and tip-toe whirling yet most gentle melody; to finales of great stamina, pulling out some extraordinary effects with the fingers and pedals, this is the Blumenfeld. Basically, he composed mostly in a Late Romantic style, but subtly with some modern chords. In other words, this music is easy to listen to – and deeply enjoy.

Copyright © 2018 John Miller and


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