> Arensky, Bortkiewicz Piano Concertos [CF]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Anton ARENSKY (1841-1906)
Piano Concerto in F minor Op.2

Allegro maestoso
Andante con moto
Scherzo-Finale: Allegro molto
Fantasia on Russian Folksongs Op.48
Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Piano Concerto No.1 in Bb Op.16

Lento - Allegro deciso
Andante sostenuto
Molto vivace e con brio
Stephen Coombs (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Jerzy Maksymiuk
Recorded in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow on 21, 22 August 1992
The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 4
HYPERION CDA66624 [70.40]


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Arensky was twenty when he wrote his concerto while still a student at the St Petersburg Conservatory, and its mix of Chopin and Tchaikovsky is evident from the start. He was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov though he does not achieve that composerís skill in orchestration, but then these works are very much vehicles for the piano to shine, with a tendency to hover on the borders of salon music in places. The concertoís slow movement produces those florid and typically Chopinesque cascades against a lyrical string melody, while the finale (very similar to the famous portentous start of Griegís piano concerto) apparently earned a rebuke from Tchaikovsky for being in 5/4 time, strangely so for later on his own Pathétique Symphony would include a whole movement in that quirky time signature. Horowitz played the concerto much when he was starting out, using it effectively to show off his virtuosity. Thereís a nice little filler in the attractive Fantasy written in 1899 but the best of this attractive disc lies in the concerto by the virtually unknown Bortkiewicz.

Sergei Bortkiewicz was not in the same virtuoso league as many other pianist/composers of his day but managed a living as a teacher and composer, mainly in Vienna from 1922 after leaving his native Russia because of the Bolshevik revolution. In his own words he was Ďa Romantic and a melodistí with a distaste for Ďso-called modern, atonal and cacophonic musicí, so Vienna was hardly a good choice of domicile considering that for about ten or fifteen years he was rubbing shoulders with Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. This concerto (this is the first complete recording after Marjorie Mitchellís cut version for the Brunswick label back in the 1960s) has an awful lot going for it, lush tunes (very Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky), rich tonal colours, highly romantic music (and there are apparently two further concertos) in the best sense of the word. The finale is excitingly Russian in its rhythms and dance-like idiom.

Stephen Coombs plays these works for all they are worth, the only way they can be done, full-blooded in his committed approach, while the BBCSSO under their erstwhile Music Director give full support. Given Hyperionís brief for this series, the concerto by Bortkiewicz fits the bill perfectly. You cannot get more Romantic than this brief encounter.

Christopher Fifield

Hyperion Romantic Piano Concerto Series


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