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Piano Works - volume 5
4 Pieces, op.10 (1909) [16:57]
3 Morceaux, op.24 (1922) [16:07]
12 Etudes Nouvelles, op.29 (1924) [39:14]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 12-13 May 2010. DDD
FINNCONCERT FCRCD 9736 [72:24]
This is the fifth of a projected eight volumes from Finnish
label FinnConcert of Russian composer Sergei Bortkiewicz's complete
music for piano as performed by Finnish soloist Jouni Somero.
The first volume was released in 2006 (FCRCD-9714), the second
in 2008 (FCRCD-9719), the third in 2009 (FCRCD-9723) and the
fourth in 2010 (FCRCD-9730). They’re all highly commendable.
Bortkiewicz was born in the Ukraine, at that time part of the
Russian Empire. In 1925 he acquired Austrian nationality, and
spent his latter days in Vienna. His parents and surname are
Polish however, and it is those roots that generally stand out
in his music. Bortkiewicz published around forty works for solo
piano, of which about half a dozen remain lost. His main works
include two Sonatas and several sets of Preludes and Etudes,
as well as Mazurkas, Waltzes, Nocturnes and a Ballade.
The premiere recordings of many of Bortkiewicz's piano pieces
were given by Klaas Trapman, either on Erasmus (WVH 271-272)
or Nederlands Muziekinstituut ('Pianoworks' vols. 1, 2, 3, 2002-2006),
and others by Stephen Coombs (Hyperion CDD22054, 2008 - reissue
of two previous discs), Cyprien Katsaris (Piano 21 P21 004,
2001) and Pierre Huybregts (Centaur CRC 2096, 1991). Bortkiewicz
scholar and pianist Bhagwan Thadani made a series of self-published
recordings, details of which can be found here.
The three works on this CD bring to nineteen the number of opuses
covered so far in this splendid series by FinnConcert. The first
two volumes revealed Bortkiewicz to be the true heir of Chopin,
as the titles listed above suggest. Volume 3, on the other hand,
showed lighter aspects of Bortkiewicz's cosmopolitanism, with
works more Russian, German, Italian or multinational in nature.
Volumes 3 and 4 brought Bortkiewicz's two important Sonatas,
as well as the Ten Etudes op.15, inventive, demanding, often
profound, always entertaining pieces in a variety of keys, that
hark back to the composer's Polish roots and especially Chopin.
Op. 15 was the second of six sets Bortkiewicz wrote across his
career, and volume 5 has the third, written more than a decade
later, the magnificent 12 New Etudes op.29 in their first complete
recording. The individual titles of these Studies may seem irreverent,
reading like the dramatis personae of a surreal drama - 'The
Blonde', 'The Brunette', 'The Philosopher', 'The Mysterious
Stranger', 'The Juggler', 'He who Loves by Moonlight', 'Falstaff'!
- but this is a major collection of great pathos and imagination.
There are two further Etudes on this disc, items three and four
of the Four Pieces op.10, as radiantly Chopinesque as their
individual titles - the first two are 'Ballade' and 'Mazurka'
- suggest. Indeed, this CD can be said to mark a return to Bortkiewicz's
Polish roots so strongly evidenced by the first two volumes.
All three works in Somero's recital are superbly lyrical, with
individual pieces characterised, almost without exception, by
unforgettable melody, delectable harmony and irrepressible rhythms
sensuously swathed in a mellifluous timelessness, with the well-judged
contrastive flourish or outburst of scintillating virtuosity
and dramatic intensity. Grieg, Schumann, Liszt, Alkan and early
Skriabin are all sometimes brought to mind, but on this disc
it is Chopin's spirit that dwells again in Bortkiewicz - whose
originality is, nevertheless, unimpeachable.
According to the FinnConcert website - now at fcrecords.fi,
rather than the finnconcert.fi indicated on the back inlay -
Jouni Somero has given more than 2,400 concerts or recitals
all over the world, and has made more than sixty recordings.
On this disc as previously, Somero plays Bortkiewicz's music
with great conviction and nimble fingers. His previously beefy
style seems to be mellowing with each new recording - with this
CD he might be said to have as finally emerged as the right
kind of champion for Bortkiewicz's music.
As in volume 4, recording quality is good - the best so far,
in fact. The CD biographical notes of composer and pianist are
practically the spitting image of those in all previous volumes.
Somero's Finnish original still provides extra biographical
notes, but as in volume 3 and 4 there is now at least a translation
of Somero's description of the works he plays, though so brief
as to be almost a token gesture. The typos in the English from
volumes 1-4 have still not been corrected - Bortkiewicz's name,
for example, still appears variously as 'Bortkiwicz' and 'Bortliewicz'.
On the whole, though, this makes five out of five quality discs,
all of which have much pleasure and interest to offer pianophiles
in particular and music-lovers in general. This latest gem-studded
volume itself verges on the indispensable.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk