Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Piano Works:-
Vol. 8: Impressions Op.4 (1905) [21:08]; Ein Roman fŁr Klavier Op.35 (1928) [29:12]
Vol. 9: Trois Morceaux Op.6 (1906), nos. 2 and 3 [7:04]; Kindheit (From a story by Leo Tolstoi) Op.39 (1930) [31:14]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 22-23 November, 2011.
FINNCONCERT FCRCD-9742 [52:23 + 38:18]
 
See article on this composer by Bhagwan Thadani.
 
Previous volumes in this valuable series: first (review), second (review), third (review), fourth (review), fifth (review), sixth (FCRCD 9740) in 2011, seventh (review)
 
Iím on a roll at present with the discs Iíve recently had to review. Iíve chosen a lot by composers Iíd either never come across before or knew of vaguely so my musical knowledge is being stretched more than somewhat and I just love it. The list has included Goldmark, GŠl, Zemlinsky, Tcherepnin, Tubin, Maria Szymanowska, Salmanov, Koszewski, Szeligowski, Panufnik, Feld, Tansman, Alla Borzova, Leschetitzky and a disc with works by 11 Argentinean composers none of whom I knew! Now here is yet another whose name was unknown to me just two weeks ago, Sergei Bortkiewicz. What it emphasises to me is just how little I really know Ė a salutary lesson. Why it is that some composers get under my radar I donít know. The same goes for performers too, such as the pianist on these discs Jouni Somero. I read that he has given more than 2500 concerts around the world and has made over 70 CDs for numerous labels. Iíve got a lot more to learn before I try going on a music quiz show!
 
The other very lucky thing for me has been that Iíve really enjoyed the music on every one of these discs. It makes me ask myself whether Iím too easily pleased and Iíve decided that that is not the case it is simply that I do enjoy someone who has something interesting to say and who knows how to say it. Bortkiewicz certainly did. On the evidence of the music on this disc he was a composer who was clearly most at home working within the romantic tradition and was not one who felt driven to explore new methods of expression. I had a quick look at who was born around the same time and within a period of twenty years or so between 1871 and 1899 the list included Scriabin, Rachmaninov, Medtner, Bartůk, Szymanowski, Prokofiev and Tcherepnin, while Brahms died in 1897. Bortkiewicz certainly had more in common with Brahms and Szymanowski than most of the others, apart perhaps from Scriabin and Medtner, and for some Szymanowski, born five years after Bortkiewicz, was ďthe last RomanticĒ.
 
Bortkiewiczís piano works show the influence of Tchaikovsky and Chopin. In fact I donít think it would be going too far to describe him as a Ukrainian Chopin despite the wide gap between them in terms of dates. While no one would claim that his music is anything like as unique or inventive as that of Chopin, nevertheless it has a charm of its own and a host of good tunes well set. He had a facility for representing moods extremely accurately as can be heard clearly in TempÍte and AprŤs la pluie (tracks 3 and 4, from Impressions op.4, 1905). Chopinesque melodies abound in Begegnung (Encounter), Plauderei (Conversation), Erwachende Liebe (Reawakened Love) and Auf dem Ball (At the ball), (tracks 8-11 from Ein Roman fŁr Klavier, A story for piano) which date from as late as 1928 when Bartůkís 4th String Quartet was written.
 
Itís interesting to note while listening to this music that is so full of lush romantic melody that 15 years before this work was composed Stravinskyís The Rite of Spring was premiŤred during which there was the famous riot, and about which Leonard Bernstein wrote "... it's ... got the best dissonances anyone ever thought up, and the best asymmetries and polytonalities and polyrhythms and whatever else you care to name." Thatís the endlessly fascinating thing about music; things donít change completely all of a sudden but gradually. While there are plenty of people wanting to, even driven to, push the boundaries, there are others happy to stay in the same groove where they feel most at home; thereís something for everyone at every stage. Since itís all subjective thereís no right or wrong way to express oneself just different ways.
 
In 1930 Bortkiewicz still found his romantic style his favourite way of expression and composed Kindheit (Infancy) from a story by Tolstoi. This is a delightful set of fourteen snapshots from childhood that include teacher, mother, father, wet nurse, the hunt and finally motherís death, the latter an achingly heartfelt piece. In the pantheon of great composers Bortkiewicz would not find a place itís true but that goes for a myriad other composers. What of it because, what counts surely is, can you relate to it, was it written honestly and with genuine feeling and does it get its message across. On all those counts this undemanding music does exactly that and gives pleasure while doing so. What more could or should you ask? Jouni Somero must certainly feel that way as these two discs are part of his survey of the complete piano works of Bortkiewicz. He has also taken on the role of champion in respect of many otherwise neglected composers such as Alkan, Arensky, Godard, Henselt, Thalberg, Blumenfeld, Rebikov and Reinhold. Congratulations are due him for this as there will undoubtedly be plenty to enjoy amongst all those and we should get the chance to hear them. Ploughing the same furrow is not only confined to those, like Bortkiewicz whose heart was stuck in the romantic tradition but also those performers who seem only to be interested in recording yet another disc of Chopin or another Beethoven piano concerto when there are already dozens of versions. People like Somero give us a valuable opportunity to hear other works and further our musical knowledge. He is doing a great job, as he has here, so thank you Mr Somero, thank you very much!
 
Steve Arloff
 
Congratulations are due him for this ... so thank you Mr Somero, thank you very much!