FABULOUS, EXHIBITIONISTIC, CAMP, BEAUTIFUL PIANO WRITING.TRANSCENDENTAL VIRTUOSITY.CARL CZERNY AND THE SPECTRE OF FELICJA BLUMENT(H)AL. BY STEVEN BENSON.

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I have a big collection of Vox Turnabout 70s LPs, with their flamboyant, camp covers, the beautiful detritus of teenage record collecting, especially of late Classical/Romantic era Piano Concerti.

But it was not just the indefatigable yet genuinely great warhorse that was/is (he is 80 now) Michael Ponti https://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2013/06/22/re-envisionningmichael-ponti-and-sebald-inspired-by-sebalds-essay-on-jan-peter-tripp-in-a-place-in-the-countrytrans-caitling-2013-by-steven-benson/ and

https://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/hommage-to-michael-ponti/

There was FELICJA BLUMENTHAL/BLUMENTAL (the surname spelling varies). She was REAL(not pseudonymous); though I am obscurely aware that some copyright battle may be ensuing between what seems to be her daughters “vanity” label https://www.branarecords.com/about-us/

and Vox, who made most of her recordings in the 60s and 70s. This is further mystified and complicated by my near- conviction that the recording on U-tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q7mWn3Z7ySk by David Boldrini and the “Rami Musicali ” orchestra is, indeed, Felicja(on her original Vox Turnabout recording with the Vienna Chamber Orchestra, directed by a definitely real conductor, Helmuth Froschauer).It gets even murkier, because on U-Tube the various concerti and recordings thereof are, lacksadaisically, all muddled together(at times); there is even a four-hands version of the said Czerny Concerto, which, according to the original LP sleeve(above) is the “Piano Concerto in A minor, op. 214″(2 hands).

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Felicja Blument(h)al was a pianist most known for having famous composers write and dedicate their works for/to her(Villa-Lobos, Penderecki, Lustoslawki), and, amongst more recherché, rareified, arcane circles, as Vox’s second(after Ponti) rare Classical/Romantic piano concerti repertoire house pianist. Her legacy, as well as Brana’s beautiful restorations(including lovely art-work), lives on, now in a recently issued 40 cd set, on Brilliant Classics of obscure classical and Romantic piano concerted works,mainly from the Vox stable (check the mammoth list of delightful unknown classics here http://www.brilliantclassics.com/articles/r/romantic-piano-concertos/ ; again, just to add, further, to the spectral, liminal demesne these recordings inhabit, the composers’ names are not in the track lists!!).

She is dead now(she would have been 109). Whilst, she, to my delight and surprise, gets an entry in the “Naxos A to Z of Pianists”, I would like to honour her (and a particular recording) in an idiosyncratic but affectionate fashion:) :

The recording is the Czerny A minor Concerto pictured above.

“Rarely, rarely comest thou, spirit of Delight”(Shelley). I had this recording in my mid/late teens; and barely noticed this coupling to my beloved (still)Field Piano Concerto 3; I have a vague memory of it seeming like what is pejoratively called “note-spinning” or “too many notes”(?Beecham). Well, it certainly HAS got a great many notes;and if I seem to be damning with faint praise, please bear with me as I attempt to caper, queerly, around the complex hinterland(an area lying beyond what is visible and known, in a broad definition) which is constituted of:

camp (in both senses of so bad it is good; AND so bad it is well… kitsch, but fun!)

parlous loftiness: trying SO hard to take flight into the transcendental but it doesn’t quite… or does it?Cf. Sebald, who in a more weighty way inhabits this non-dichotomous borderland which is the perilous mixture of camp risibility walking on the tightrope alongside (failed?) greatness; something about the labarynthine nature of the tortuous prose or all the notes, cascading in what Liszt(on Field) called “sublime passagework”, attempting to soar into the ether/the empyrean (and not quite taking flight?Make up your own mind!). https://towardsutopia.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/sebald-and-parlous-loftinessqueer-or-campby-steven-benson/

Felicja, womanfully, takes on the supremely, almost excruciatingly, difficult scalic passages,mad, sudden key-changes, and exquisite, elaborate  but tortured decoration; but she does it, not with ease (most of the time) but with the air of climbing a steep challenging mountain, and, sometimes,nearly falls off a cliff-edge (of insuperable technical dexterity), picks herself up and plods on, all the time seeming(actually being??) slightly behind the beat, as she tries to fit all the notes into the rhythym, and keep up with the orchestra.She clangs too (but without Ponti’s additional sensitivity); to be fair, this may be the Vox recording; and, if Ponti’s own documentation of rehearsal time(or lack of it) is anything to go by, these crazy renditions were probably done in one “take”(though you can actually, occasionally, HEAR the odd edit/tape splice!). Regarding the music itself, it grows on me, for these reasons:
I had a discussion with a friend about whether there was such a thing as “transcendental virtuosity” or if this was an oxymoron. Obviously not(just) “transcendental” as being almost impossibly technically difficult, but aspiring towards the ineffable/spiritual beauty/whatever you want, nebulously, to name it; we had to agree to disagree, because he thought it was an aporia: these concerti might be fun but were just what it said on the box, gloriously uninhibited but showy passagework and technical virtuosity. Well. obviously, this Czerny Concerto IS all these things(as Felicja-I like to call her that:)- makes clear through her labours; but there is something, not unanalagous to what I hear/experience in the Field (seven!) piano concerti-{though not reaching what is, in Field, an UNEQUIVOCALLY transcendental (in the spiritual sense) sheer earthly and “heavenly” beauty and moving, poignant exquisiteness.}.

It IS striving for effect(per se); but then , eg in a weird, quirky but genuinely beautiful passage in the romp that is the Rondo finale, we have an interruption… a chorale-like tune(played, precariously, by Froschauer’s horns!), which is moving in a chorale-like way, but which is accompanied by the pianist playing the most florid, extravagant, camp decoration(in the form of variation on the chorale melody).Wow! Words fail(as they often do, in the quagmire that is the towards non-referentialness of music; that is the point!). Its not just camp and flamboyant(nothing wrong with that, anyway); but its conveying of a sense of sheer joy and exhileration(mediated , slightly, by Felicja’s heroic but slightly challenged attempts at effortless virtuosity, which somehow, poignantly adds to the ineffable feeling) takes it- to me, and, perhaps to YOU, dear reader/listener too, if you accord it enough time- into the(what?) “spiritual”, “name of the name”, godhead, redemptive; it does not have to be the overt redemptive quality of a moment in late Wagner or Beethoven to do this, it can be this towards-rodomontade extravaganza of the Czerny A minor Concerto.. and, back to that Chorale, it is not sending up the chorale(and its necessitous theistic associations) but it is, somehow/unquantifiably, ENHANCING it. Words are slippery, again… I hope you get what I am aiming to express but struggling (so listen to the Boldrini/Blumental link yourself:)).

 


Finally, that orchestra: OMG, it starts SO out of tune, with thin strings and poor pitching in the horns; it is, technically, one of Vox’s worst(and that is saying something!:P); it makes the “Hamburg Symphony”(another Vox staple) sound like the Berlin Phil; here, I come to another quality of the music/performance(linked); the struggle of the pianist AND the under-rehearsed(scratch?{in both senses}) orchestra is all part of the totality of beauty; the parlous (shaky) loftiness/not quite making it but getting there nonetheless… into a realm of… complex, FRAGILE beauty, the world Bellini’s cabalettas and strettas, and Huysmans’ des Esseintes (“Au Rebours”) occupies. We have a hierarchy of beauty, the sublime and the spiritual; and we should not laugh at, or pathologize, the des Esseintes, the exquisites, of this world who create and/or appreciate this tenuous thread of exquisite, rareified beauty. Listen to Czerny LOTS of times(its revelations are only garnered through repetition and suspending judgement and this-is-not–in- the- great-canon values), hear the gorgeous melodies and the pompous, busy tuttis; perhaps listen to Shelley on Hyperion( am sure will be more technically adept; but that might well HINDER the fragility of what is going on here).

 

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So, rest in peace, Felicja… and LIVE ON in these invaluable recordings.. I shall have to listen to others of hers(though she does a mean Paderewski “Fantaisie Polonaise…)and, of course, more Czerny……..

 

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About decayetude

ENTHUSIASMS: CLASSICAL MUSIC, ESPECIALLY OBSCURE ROMANTIC COMPOSERS; BACH/HANDEL LITERATURE, ESPECIALLY THOUGHTFUL, WELL-WRITTEN(STYLISTICALLY)NOVELS W G SEBALD WALTER BENJAMIN THEODOR ADORNO(JUST BEGINNING!) AESTHETIC PHILOSOPHY GAY MEN'S WRITING;QUEER THEORY STIMULATING DISCUSSIONS(EMOTIONALLY AND INTELLECTUALLY) GOOD RICH THICK ESPRESSO MICHAEL PONTI SPRITUALITY/LIFE'S "AURA"(BENJAMIN), WHATEVER TRANSCENDENTAL THING YOU WANT TO CALL THIS MEMORY-the elusiveness thereof. LOST TIME AND AN ATTEMPT AT ITS REDEMPTION(NON THEISTICALLY/RELIGIOUSLY)
This entry was posted in a la recherche Benjamin gay queer archive assembalge, alterity, art, Benjamin a la recherche spectral psychogeography bargain LPs Hatto Barrington-Coupe Assemblage Constellation, camp, ecriture cuir, life mirrors art, Michael Ponti, parlous loftiness, Piano music, Queer art epedemiology AIDS HIV Alien Sex Club, queer constellations rememberances straightqueer, Queer wrting, Quirky captures, Re-envisionning, Rememberances, Sebald, self-reflection haiku poem Illuminated cafe psychogeography, Stream-of-consciousness, Uncategorized, Utopia. Bookmark the permalink.

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