for £ postage paid World-wide.
Piano Works - Volume 1
Six Pensées Lyriques, op.11 (1909) [19:16]
Lamentations and Consolations, op.17 (1914)
Four Morceaux, op.65 (1947) [14:49]
Two Preludes, op.66 (1946) [5:28]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 29-30 October 2005, 12 February
FINNCONCERT FCRCD 9714 [76:58]
for £13.95 postage paid World-wide.
Piano Works - volume 2
Ballade, op.42 (1931) [7:19]
Elégie, op.46 (1932) [6:16]
Ten Preludes, op.33 (1926) [29:02]
Minuit - Deux Morceaux, op.5 (1907) [14:41]
Trois Valses, op.27 (1924) [11:31]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 26-27 May 2007. DDD
FINNCONCERT FCRCD 9719 [69:53]
Originally released in 2006 & 2008, these are the first
two of a projected eight volumes from Finnish label FinnConcert.
This series will encompass complete music for piano of Ukraine-born
composer Sergei Bortkiewicz all performed by Finnish soloist
was born in the Ukraine, at the 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 stand out in his music.
Bortkiewicz published around forty works for solo piano (not
to forget two symphonies
and three piano concertos: review
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.
If those titles bring to mind a certain Frédéric Chopin, that
is no coincidence: the works in Somero's first two recitals,
cutting across a long career, reveal Bortkiewicz to be the true
heir of Chopin. The second of the two Minuit Pieces op.5 and
the semi-chromatic F sharp Prelude in particular are so strikingly
reminiscent of Chopin in style and sound, that they feel like
lost works rediscovered. Some may cry 'derivative', but Bortkiewicz
is an original. Heretical as it may sound, indeed, in some ways
he actually takes Chopin to a yet higher plane: his music is
darker, and altogether more sustained in its passion, and it
is easy to run out of superlatives to describe the dusky lyricism
that courses through every single piece.
What matter if Bortkiewicz was more or less unaffected by what
Szymanowski or Debussy were doing at the keyboard? His is music
which, like that of Saint-Saëns, will always delight audiences
that crave beautiful melodies, luscious harmonies, directed
intensity, and classically shaped structures. The booklet notes
label Bortkiewicz the "Russian Grieg", but in this
kind of music that might be construed as damning with faint
praise. On the contrary, it would be fairer to describe Grieg,
at least in his Lyric Pieces, as a 'lite' version of Bortkiewicz.
There are certainly reminiscences of Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky,
or early Skriabin, yet these works are littered with chords
and flourishes straight out of Chopin. These parallels are reinforced
by a similar absence of virtuosity for its own sake: leaving
the beautiful melodies, wistful harmonies and classically crafted
structures to do the talking.
That is not to say there is no bravura passion - the stormy
Lamentation in C sharp minor, for example, gives the
lie to that, with the E sharp minor and the second of the Four
Morceaux not far behind. The overall impression, however,
is one of supreme lyricism, nostalgia and considerable beauty.
All the music is lovely, but special mention must be made of
the eight Lamentations and Consolations, the most Lisztian
of Bortkiewicz's music not just by title, and the Quatre
Morceaux, both absolutely crammed with fabulous 'old-fashioned'
mellifluousness, lyrical ardour and timeless, sensuous harmonies.
The Ten Preludes of 1926 may be an anachronism, but for those
who judge music on its own poetic and technical merits rather
than on its historical context, the Preludes are a major work
of incredible pathos, compelling virtuosity and dazzling splendour.
Elsewhere too, from the delirious ending of the otherwise lilting
Ballade to the very Rachmaninovian Elégie, from the fervent
lyricism of the two contrasted Minuit Morceaux to the mellifluous
timelessness of the Three Waltzes, Bortkiewicz's music is a
breathtaking compendium of relentlessly inventive melodic sensuousness.
Soloist Jouni Somero evidently keeps himself very busy - according
to the FinnConcert website, he has given more than 2,400 concerts
or recitals all over the world, whilst his discography apparently
exceeds sixty. He plays Bortkiewicz's music expressively enough,
though he does not adhere too closely to the score, frequently
ignoring or altering dynamics, pedal markings, note and rest
values, fermatas, indications to play sforzando, subito forte/piano,
staccato, dolcissimo, pensieroso. So these are artistic interpretations
rather than a fulfilment of Bortkiewicz's precise instructions,
but if anything, Somero is more convincing in volume 2 and he
is an admirable champion of Bortkiewicz's scintillating music.
Sound quality is very good, though in Volume 2, the piano does
sound slightly laboured. The CD booklets are decidedly pro
forma. Those able to read Somero's Finnish original do get
more information for their money - the Finnish provides extra
biographical paragraphs and a cursory description of the works
in Somero's programme. There are typos in the English version
that occur in both volumes - for example, one instance in which
the composer's name is spelt 'Bortkiwicz'.
For anyone who relishes unforgettable melodies harmonised with
imagination in superbly crafted, often profound miniatures,
these two volumes are unmissable. This promises to be a marvellous
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk