Portuguese Keyboard Music Vol. 2 – Felicja Blumental – CB4836



Carlos Seixas

If Padre Antonio Soler, dominates the Spanish music scene, Carlos Seixas is just as important in the Portuguese.

In 1720, when Domenico Scarlatti arrived to the Infants of Braganza, Seixas, though only sixteen, was already an educated musician and organist of the Chapel Royal. As organist and cembalist Scarlatti were both in the same household, they must have come into much contact, and their association was deepened, for better or worse, by the fashion of Italian music. This does not mean that Seixas, whose teacher was his father, organist of Coimbra Cathedral, had any particularly pure Iberian springs of music from which to drink. Pasquini scores had reached Portugal, and he had learned the Pasquini style, and later companionship taught him the Scarlatti style. But Seixas’ music shows an independence of any but a general Italian style, and his music, represented here by seven works, is less known than that of Soler though capable of giving just as great a degree of pleasure.

Scarlatti and Seixas worked side by side, each developing and enriching his own style, until 1729, when Scarlatti went off to Madrid with the Princess after her marriage, leaving Seixas behind at his accustomed duties in the Portuguese Chapel Royal for another thirteen years, until he was claimed by an early death. Although the two composers worked side by side, Seixas does not seem to have been more than generally influenced by Italian music, Seixas is more independent than the Spanish Soler of Scarlatti’s style and his Sonatas dated from after Scarlatti’s departure. There is a story that the Infante (or crown Prince) of Portugal asked Scarlatti shortly after his arrival to give Seixas lessons, but as soon as he saw the young player place his hands on the keyboard he recognised Seixas’ talent and remarked “You are the one who could teach me!”.

Frei Jacinto – Toccata in D minor

Of brother Jacintho we know very little, except that, like Soler and Angles he was a cleric. Unlike these two priests, however, he was Frei rather than Padre, and perhaps his conventual vows restricted his life and the scope of his music. His brilliant little Toccata in D minor is in its binary form exactly like most of the Sonatas of the period. On paper, it makes some attempt to be in three voices, but its use of thirds and sixths means the inevitable two. The bass, however, is intelligent and alive.

Felicja Blumental was born in Warsaw, where she studied at the National Conservatory with Karol Szymanowski, Joseph Goldberg and Drzewiecki.

She began her international career just before the Second World War, but in 1942 was obliged to emigrate to South America. She settled in Brazil and made a successful American debut at Rio de Janeiro. Other successes in Buenos Aires and Montevideo led to a successful concert career in the United States.

Villa-Lobos was so impressed with her playing of his Bachianos Brasileiras No.3 in 1954, that he composed his Fifth Piano Concerto for her, which she first performed in the Festival Hall, London, in 1955, and went on to perform under the composer’s baton with the leading orchestras of Europe.

Witold Lutoslawski orchestrated his Variations on a Theme of Paganini specifically for her, and when Krysztof Penderecki was commissioned to create a new work to mark the 25th anniversary of the Eastman School of Music (Rochester, New York), he wrote the Partita for Harpsichord and Orchestra and dedicated it to Miss Blumental. The work was played worldwide by Miss Blumental, with the composer conducting some 35 times.

Felicja Blumental appeared with all of the leading European orchestras; and whilst in London was soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Miss Blumental is well-known for her recordings of sixty piano concerti, many of which are first recordings of forgotten masterpieces. She has also recorded many Mozart concerti with the Mozarteum, Salzburg; and five Beethoven concerti with Robert Wagner conducting the Austrian Symphony; as well as many concerti of the well-known romantic repertory.

Her recordings of Portuguese Sonatas and Toccatas of pupils of Domenico Scarlatti, were awarded the Grand Prix in Tokyo in 1977.

(Sketch by Van Dongen, showing a dedication to Felicja Blumental by the artist himself.)


Felicja Blumental – piano

In 1956, Felicja Blumental recorded one volume of Spanish and Portuguese Sonatas for Decca in London, so great was the success of this album with the critics and the public alike, another two records were recorded and released, again to great acclaim.

To take the music to a far wider audience Felicja played them in over 55 recitals across the world, from Lisbon to Paris, London, Manchester, Zurich, Lausanne, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Oslo, and also in the remote Norwegian city of Trondheim.

Felicja Blumental was renowned for pioneering the revival of “forgotten masterpieces” from romantic and classical periods she also made many first recordings, of such forgotten composers as: Hoffmeister, Platti, Manfredini, Clementi, Kuhlau, Anton Rubinstein, Rimsky Korsakof in his Piano Quintets, Albeniz in his Spanish Piano Concerto, the only Piano Concerto by Viotti, Dinu Lipatti, in his Concertino and Rumanian Rhapsody and of course the five piano concertos by Beethoven. Felicja also recorded his original version of the Violin Concerto Op. 61, for piano, Romanza Cantabile, Rondo Posth., the juvenile concerto written by Beethoven at the age of 14, in E flat major, plus concertos by Paisiello, Stamitz, Jon Field, Hummel, Carl Czerny both his piano concerto in G major and his Variations on a Haydn theme.

Heitor Villa-Lobos wrote his 5th Concerto for Felicja and Krzysztof Penderecki, dedicated his Partita for harpsichord and orchestra to her, this work won the Prix du Disque in 1975.

In 1978 Witold Lutoslawski orchestrated his ‘Variations on a Theme of Paganini’ for Felicja Blumental which she premiered with the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Brian Priestman.

Other recordings included: Busoni, Spanish Rhapsody with orchestra, Arensky, his Russian Concerto, Paderewski, Concerto and Polish Fantasy with orchestra, and of course the concertos by Grieg, Schumann, Tchaikovsky (No.1) and Rachmaninov (No.2)

Felicja Blumental also recorded the complete Scherzos, Waltzes, Polonaise and also the complete 19 Polish Songs by Chopin with soprano Annette Celine.

On her last American tour Felicja Blumental played the Mozart Concertos in 22 cities along with the Wiener Kammerorchester, which consisted of the outstanding members of the Wiener Philharmoniker.

Cover Picture: Felicja Blumental by the Japanese painter Tsugonharn Foujita (Tel Aviv Museum of Art)