This 37th instalment of Hyperion's ongoing 'Romantic Piano Concerto' series is in many ways, one of the most beguiling issues so far, if not for anything, certainly for the rarity of music it contains. Eduard Nápravník (1839-1916) and Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931) are hardly household names, but in their day, they were two of the most important figures in Russian musical life. Nápravník was born in 1839 in the Czech town of Byst. At the age of 23 he moved to Russia, becoming chief conductor of the Mariinsky Theatre in 1869, a post he held till nearly the end of his life in 1916. Nápravník premièred nearly 80 Russian operas and worked closely with many famous composers such as Anton Rubinstein, the 'Mighty Handful' and most of all, Tchaikovsky, who had a special admiration for him.
The Concerto symphonique Op. 27 and Fantasie Russe, Op. 39 are among Nápravník's best orchestral pieces (he also composed 4 operas and several chamber works). Full of hot blooded music, they are typically Russian works of their age that enthral and excite. Moments of tenderness and reflection also abound.
Felix Blumenfeld, born in Ukraine in 1863 is best known as the teacher of Vladimir Horowitz and Simon Barere, but he too was a vital figure as pianist, conductor, editor, teacher and composer. By the time of his death in 1931, he was revered by the whole musical establishment. Heinrich Neuhaus (Richter and Gilels' teacher) once remarked that in the field of music there was not one profession in which he did not have full mastery.
The Allegro de Concert, Op. 7 is full of joy and optimism enmeshed in an oriental flavour reminiscent of Glinka and Balakirev. The piano language is very Lisztian, giving ample scope to the soloist to display his virtuosic skills.
The Ukraine born pianist, Evgeny Soifertis (now living in London) not only excels as the soloist, but is also the author of the superbly researched essay contained in the inlay booklet. Playing and writing are both of truly immaculate quality. If you want to enhance your enjoyment of this music, my advice is to read the notes first and then listen to the music. The able support of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Alexander Titov is another huge plus of this venture, which I strongly recommend to all those who relish exploring the many hidden byways of musical history.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech