Rachmaninov & Blumenfeld – Piano Sonatas

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COMPOSERS: Blumenfeld,Rachmaninov
LABELS: SFZ Music
WORKS: Blumenfeld: Sonata-Fantasia, Op. 46; Piano Pieces, Op. 38; Rachmaninov: Piano Sonata No. 1
PERFORMER: Daniel Grimwood (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: SFZM 0309

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Primarily remembered these days as the teacher of Horowitz and Simon Barere, Felix Blumenfeld cuts a particularly interesting figure among Russian composers born a generation or so after Tchaikovsky.

The Sonata-Fantasia first published in 1913 ranks as one of the most ambitious of his works, making predictably fearsome technical demands of the pianist. Its musical language owes much to Chopin and Liszt, though some ambitiously daring harmonies in the central slow movement also suggest an awareness of the more exploratory chromaticism of Scriabin. 

Daniel Grimwood marshals the torrent of notes that characterise the frenzied writing of the opening movement and the Finale with impressive bravura, although the recording is rather shallow and serves to emphasise his limited tonal colouring.

The Op. 38 set of miniatures appears far more convincing in this respect, the limpid quasi-impressionist writing of ‘Près de l’eau’ and ‘La Fontaine’ delivered with great sensitivity. Unfortunately the reservations that I have about Grimwood’s account of the Sonata-Fantasia are replicated in his performance of the Rachmaninov.

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Again, the formidable technical demands of the writing hold no terrors for him, but in a work of such extended length, there needs to be more subtlety of nuance to fully engage the listener. Erik Levi