Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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Len Mullenger:

SERGEI BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952) Symphony No. 1 in D Aus Meiner Heimat (1935-36) [36.11] Symphony No. 2 in E flat (1937) [32.10] orchestrated and played on the electronic SYNTHESISER by Daniel Oke  The Bhagwan Thadani Bortkiewicz project. Bortkiewicz Vol. 11 - CD-23 [68.21]


Having traversed the complete piano works of Bortkiewicz, Bhagwan Thadani turns his dedicated attention to the symphonies.

This is the most recent disc in the sequence - only just released. It owes its existence to Malcolm Henbury-Ballan whose vigilance tracked down these otherwise lost scores to the wonderful Fleisher Collection at the Free Library of Philadelphia.

The first symphony declares, through its title, a remembrance of his Russian homeland recalled from the streets and groves of Vienna. The work is fluently Tchaikovskian with much angst and upheaval, flighty comedy and Glazunov-like high jinks in the scherzo. The blindfold test might well place this symphony circa 1900 (if not earlier). Russian Orthodox chant broods gloweringly through the Adagio.

You might from the title have expected music which is relaxed and nostalgic. In fact while this is assuredly nostalgic stuff the edges are unsoftened, the drama is vivid and built by a musician whose reverence for Tchaikovsky is clear. The title may prepare you for the pictorialism of Raff; the music is quite other and the template is Tchaikovsky's Fourth Symphony. I can't wait to hear this with a real orchestra.

Tchaikovsky again is your guide through the second symphony which is even more urgently impassioned than its predecessor. It is often exciting, drawing on the wellsprings of Tchaikovsky (Symphonies 4-5 and Francesca). It is no pallid facsimile but sullen and angry. The andante sostenuto is akin to the final movement of Tchaikovsky 6 and builds a lapel-gripping atmosphere. The finale sustains the excitement but its angst reacts with the same impulsive Borodin-like music as appears in the finale of No. 1.

I had thought beforehand that with knowledge of the Second and Third piano concertos these works would be closer to Rachmaninov. In fact there is no doubting their allegiance to Great Peter. Both symphonies are throwbacks forty or fifty years linguistically speaking but this does not matter in the slightest.

There is no denying the intrinsically second or third best nature of synthesised orchestral sound. That is not Mr Oke's fault. It is to his credit that so much life and ripeness rises from this synthetic soundscape. When they are recorded (as assuredly they will when ASV or Hyperion hear this) I hope that the fervour captured by Oke will still rise like fumes as it does from these created performances. It will be more than a pity if we get time-serving routine. I can imagine in my pipe dreams what Mravinsky and the Leningrad PO would have done with these symphonies.

I hope you will try this disc. It is an ersatz or substitute for the real thing but then so is any recording.

The music speaks with the accent and confident stride of a master. Doubters should try the last five minutes of the finale of No. 2.

Recommended for enthusiasts, libraries and new repertoire scouts out to tap into the bottomless market for a second Tchaikovsky.


Rob Barnett


SOUND: synthesiser - special category

See also special article on Bortkiewicz

The disc can be ordered from Mr Thadani at Cantext Publications, 19 Laval Drive, Winnipeg, Canada R3T 2X3. e-mail:


Rob Barnett

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