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Piano Works - volume 4
Piano Sonata no.2, op.60 (1942) [25:57]
Aus Meiner Kindheit, op.14 (1911) [18:39]
Ten Preludes, op.15 (1911) [30:06]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 6-7 November 2008. DDD
FINNCONCERT FCRCD 9730 [74:47]
Originally released in 2010, this is the fourth of a projected
eight volumes from Finnish label FinnConcert of 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),
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 the last part of his life 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, as well
as Mazurkas, Etudes, Waltzes 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 also made a series of self-published
recordings, details of which can be found here.
The three works on this CD bring to sixteen 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.
Volume 3 also brought Bortkiewicz's early First Piano Sonata,
full of dazzling virtuosity and dramatic intensity from the
first bars to the final, alongside trademark beautiful melodies
and luscious harmonies, as well as the timeless sensuousness
of the slow movement. After previously referring to the First
as a "magnificent Sonata", Somero describes the Second
as his own personal favourite among Bortkiewicz's piano works,
and it is easy to hear why - it is both utterly conservative
and utterly delectable. The big chord rumbustiousness of the
first movement gives way to a catchy, rubato-rich allegretto,
whilst a lilting, light-fingered, yet very heartfelt slow movement
leads into an exciting, uplifting finale. There are borrowings
from and reminiscences of Rachmaninov, Chopin, Grieg, Alkan
and Skriabin throughout, but Bortkiewicz still manages to affirm
his own originality. Though he gave the premiere in 1942, the
work was only published in 1995 after considerable detective
work on the part of Bhagwan Thadani, as he explains in his essay
at the link given above.
The remaining two works take the listener back to an early phase
of Bortkiewicz's career, shortly after the First Sonata. Aus
Meiner Kindheit ('From My Childhood') is a sort of teenage
version of Schumann's Kinderszenen, a suite of six short
scenes in more or less chronological order, from the warmth
of 'What the Nurse Sang' to the unsettling shadows of 'The Dark
Room' and the mock-suavity of 'The Dancing Lesson', from the
sweet 'First Love', with its presumably deliberate allusions
to Grieg's best-loved song, to the inevitable 'First Sorrow',
and finally the grand - grandiose - plans of 'When I am a Man'.
The Ten Etudes op.15, the second of six sets Bortkiewicz wrote
across his career, are inventive, demanding, often profound,
always entertaining pieces in a variety of keys, that hark back
to the composer's Polish roots and Chopin.
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 conviction and nimble fingers. His beefy style still seems
better suited to loud music than delicate pieces, but with each
new recording he better approximates the right kind of champion
for Bortkiewicz's music, as he demonstrates in some of the gentler
After a dip in volume 3, recording quality is good, ditto editing.
The CD booklet is again pro forma, with biographical
notes of composer and pianist virtually identical to those in
all previous volumes. Somero's Finnish original still provides
extra biographical notes, but as in volume 3 there is now a
translation of Somero's description of the works he plays, though
so brief as to be almost pointless. The typos in the English
from volumes 1-3 have still not been corrected - nothing has
been done, for example, about the instance in which the composer's
name is spelt 'Bortkiwicz'.
On balance, this is another quality disc, and no pianophile
should be without Bortkiewicz's Piano Sonatas or his sets of
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk