BLUMENFELD: Etude de Concert, Op. 24; Souvenir douloureux, Op. 2, No. 2; Deux Nocturnes, Op. 6; Suite Polonaise, Op. 23; 10 Moments lyrique, Op. 27; Deux Morceaux, Op. 37; Danse, Op. 53, No. 1 – Jouni Somero, piano – FC Records FCRCD-9706, 69:03 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Finnish pianist Jouni Somero (b. 1963), a pupil of Prof. Herbert Drechsel and protégé of Georges Cziffra, performs the solo works of Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931) on the Steinway D (rec. 2-3 May 2003), music that seems derivative and reminiscent of perfumed Scriabin, but decidedly more conservative despite its glittery bravura. The Ukrainian Blumenfeld studied in St. Petersburg with Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Stein. He eventually led the orchestra at the Marinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, introducing such works as Tristan und Isolde, Scriabin’s Divine Poem, and the Poem of Ecstasy. All but the opening Etude are world premier recordings by Somero.
But the first of the 1887 Nocturnes, “Une nuit a Magaratch,” makes a good case in point for Blumenfeld‘s avoidance of “modernism.” Employing sweeping arpeggios and a staggered melodic line, it might beckon to Moorish and Iberian locales, but its means rarely invoke anything dangerously modal beyond languid, strummed motifs, a scented water lily. “Nocturne” might have stolen from Chopin’s posthumous E Minor Nocturne, and that in C-sharp Minor, famed for its invocation of the F Minor Concerto. The opening piece, the 1897 Etude de Concert, asks a fluttering right hand to syncopate against a four-square bass progression that increases in volume, music that could be mistaken for young Rachmaninov. The Suite Polonaise No. 1, comprised of four essentially Polish national dance forms, opens with lively Krakowiak. The second dance, Kujuawiak, is sometimes labeled an Obertas and conforms to Chopin’s mazurka style. Its middle section melody seems stolen from the Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu. No. 3, Berceuse, offers an extended piece that begins in wistful, melancholy chimes that soon droop in figures lifted from Chopin. The Suite concludes with a Mazurek that borrows from Chopin’s Op. 33, No. 4. If Blumenfeld remains a mere epigone, he proves a lyrical one.
Ten pieces comprise the 1898 Moments lyriques. The first, Andante, is a mood piece in a salon style that wants candles and incense near the keyboard. Presto furioso has something of Liszt but more of Chopin’s G Minor Prelude. Andante, compared to the Brahms B Minor Intermezzo, Op. 119, No. 1, seems weak tea. Andante mesto. Tempo rubato asserts a laconic motif that communicates some real passion. The Andantino passes as Blumenfeld’s answer to Chopin’s Prelude in F-sharp Major. The Allegretto, No. 6 seems to beckon one of Chopin’s Trois Nouvelles Etudes cross fertilized by a touch of Bach. Another Andante, No. 7, this one introverted and moody in the manner of Scriabin or Medtner but just a bit hued by Chopin’s Op 28, No. 4. No. 8, Allegretto, projects raindrops and quickly grace notes, rather improvised. No. 9, Andantino, certainly could pass as Scriabin, built on staggered phrases and passing fourths. Perhaps the most “experimental” piece in this collection. Presto concludes the set, but it lacks true abandon and settles for rocking rhythm, stilted Brahms that manages to assert a big technique.
Somero ends his tour of Blumenfeld’s keyboard oeuvre with a diptych, first the Deux Morceaux (misspelled on the label), Op. 37 (1905): “Elegiaco” once more steals conceits from Chopin nocturnes or the Largo from the B Minor Sonata. “Patetico” wallows in those effusive lush arpeggios we know from movies with oceanside love scenes. But Burt and Deborah are nowhere to be seen. A poor man’s Scriabin D-sharp Minor Etude, this. Danse (c. 1927) incorporates Scriabin’s late condensation, using a four-note pattern, rising and falling, not far in sentiment from Debussy’s Des pas de la neige. The music gains insistence and perhaps some obsession, ending quizzically in the manner of late Liszt or even Satie.
Haydn Quartets, spanning two decades