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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
FINNCONCERT FCRCD 9740 [73:01]
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
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
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.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk