String Quartet in F Major, Op.26
Felix Blumenfeld (1863-1931) was born in the Russian-Polish town of Kovalevka in what is now Ukraine. He came from a musical family and quickly established himself as a piano virtuoso of the first rank. He attended the St. Petersburg Conservatory and studied composition with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and piano with Alexander Stein. Shortly after graduating, he obtained a teaching position there eventually becoming a Professor. He also enjoyed a career as a concert pianist and opera conductor and was associated with the premieres of several of Rimsky-Korsakovís operas. Between 1918 to 1922 he served as a Professor of Piano and Director of the Kiev Conservatory. Among his many students was Vladimir Horowitz. Today, he is primarily remembered for his first rate and beautiful compositions for piano which in terms of difficulty are often compared to those of Liszt.
The String Quartet in F Major dates from 1898 and is Blumenfeldís only work in this genre. It won the First Prize of the St. Petersburg Chamber Music Society. The Quartet is certainly one of the very best written of the late Romantic Russian Nationalist school. It is a beautiful work both pleasant to play and to hear. The opening movement, Allegro, begins with a gorgeous theme presented by the first violin and cello. This is followed up by an equally lovely second theme. Here, Blumenfeld conjures up the aura of both Borodin and Rimsky Korsakov. Next comes a very original Scherzo in which the Viola and Cello bring forth a dark and gloomy but rather insistent theme which is played over rushing 16th notes in the Violins. It is a wonderful moment when the lyrical second theme makes its appearance, like the sun suddenly breaking through storm clouds. The third movement, Andantino, begins with a long lyrical Viola solo. After its full statement the others take part in its development. The opening bars of the exciting finale, Allegro molto, with its fleet 16ths recalls the Scherzo while the second theme brings back thoughts of the opening movement. The slower second theme provides excellent contrast.
This is an excellent late romantic quartet, one of the very best of its type. It is deserving of concert performance where it is sure to please but is an attractive addition to the libraries of amateurs with its first rate part-writing and no real technical difficulties.