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Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Piano Works - volume 6
Prelude, op.6 no.1 (1906) [5:17]
Esquisses de Crimée, op.8 (1908) [20:07]
Im 3/4 Takt, op.48 (1932) [13:10]
Lyrica Nova, op.59 (1940) [13:01]
4 Pieces, op.3 (1906) [21:22]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 29-30 June 2011; 25 April 2009 (Prelude). DDD

Experience Classicsonline

This is the sixth of a projected eight volumes from Finnish label FC-Records (previously 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 (review), the second in 2008 (review), the third in 2009 (review), the fourth in 2010 (review) and the fifth, like the present volume, in late 2011 (review). Volume 5 is the pick, with volume 1 close behind, but thanks to Bortkiewicz's endless store of memorable melody and haunting harmony, there is marvellous music on all of them.

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 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 (on his own Piano 21 label, 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.

Somero begins and ends this recital with relatively early Bortkiewicz. The Prelude in E flat minor, op.6 no.1 - the notes do not explain, incidentally, why this has been separated from nos. 2 and 3 - is a gorgeous introduction, oozing nostalgia and sensuality, yet it is surpassed in depth and breadth by the stunning splendour of the four Esquisses de Crimée ('Crimean Sketches'), the first of which is a Bortkiewiczean tribute to Beethoven and Chopin, and the last to Bach and Chopin.

All the works in Somero's programme, in fact, are vividly lyrical, with individual movements characterised, almost without exception, by unforgettable melody, ambrosial harmony and suave rhythms sensorially swathed in a mellifluous timelessness, with the well-judged contrastive flourish of dramatic intensity. Grieg, Schumann, Liszt, Alkan and early Skriabin are all sometimes brought to mind, but on this disc, as in all but volume 3, it is Chopin's spirit that dwells primarily in Bortkiewicz - whose poetic originality is, nevertheless, unimpeachable.

According to the FC-Records website, 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. The muscle-vest style of the first volumes seems to be mellowing with each new recording, though he still has an irrepressible penchant for forte dynamics, not always sanctioned by Bortkiewicz.

As in the volumes 4 and 5, recording quality is pretty good, although the piano itself may be entering the veteran stages of its career. The CD booklet is once more pro forma, with biographical notes of composer and pianist the spitting image of those in all previous volumes. Somero's description of the music is so brief as to be almost tokenist, but better than nothing. The numerous typos in the English from volumes 1-5 have still not been corrected - Bortkiewicz's name, for example, still appears variously as 'Bortkiwicz' and 'Bortliewicz'. The cover photo is a case of 'back to the future': it is very like the one on volume 1, with the difference that Somero is looking wiser and trimmer!

Minor quibbles aside, this one makes it six out of six quality CDs of Bortkiewicz's music, all of which have hours of pleasure and interest to offer pianophiles in particular and every kind of music lover in general.

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