Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Piano Works - volume 7
Deux Morceaux, op.7 (1908) [10:03]
Trois Morceaux, op.12 (1910) [16:31]
Seven Preludes, op.40 (1931) [15:21]
From Andersen's Fairy Tales, op.30 (1925) [31:02]
Jouni Somero (piano)
rec. Kuusaa Hall, Kuusankoski, Finland, 22-23 August 2011. DDD
See article on this composer by Bhagwan Thadani.
This is the seventh 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), the fifth (review) and sixth (FCRCD 9740) in 2011. Volume 5 is still the pick of the bunch, with volume 1 close behind, but thanks to Bortkiewicz's endless store of memorable melodies and wistful harmonies, 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).
The four works in this recital are earlyish and mid-period Bortkiewicz. Not that there is that much difference, as Bortkiewicz's music is nearly always deeply nostalgic, strongly reminiscent of Chopin and Schumann, though more laid-back, with harmonies rarely unheard in Grieg - he was more or less unaffected by what Szymanowski, Schoenberg or Stravinsky were doing. The best work on this disc is the delightful suite of varied character pieces, From Andersen's Fairy Tales op.30, but it is fair to say that this is not the most compelling addition to the series. On the other hand, like all previous releases it will give hours of pleasure and interest to lovers of lyrical, unpretentious music.
On this disc as previously, Jouni Somero plays Bortkiewicz with enthusiasm and dexterity, but poetic finesse is more intermittent - there are still traces of the muscle-vest style of the early volumes, typified by an irrepressible penchant for forte dynamics, not always sanctioned by Bortkiewicz.
As in volumes 4, 5 and 6, recording quality is pretty good, although the piano's rather noisy action and twangy sound suggests it may soon be retiring from the stage - it certainly ought to. The CD booklet is once more pro forma, with biographical notes of composer and pianist virtually identical to those in all previous volumes. Nor is there any gainsaying the fact that the notes lean towards the trivial, if not outright dim - for example, there is a single quotation from Bortkiewicz's memoirs: "Now I was married and a new period of my live [sic] began."
Moreover, FC-Records have taken an inexplicable retrograde step with this volume in that there is, for the first time, not a jot of information about the pieces in Somero's recital. The numerous typos in the English from volumes 1-6 have still not been corrected - Bortkiewicz's name, for example, still appears variously as 'Bortkiwicz' and 'Bortliewicz'. There is further sloppiness in the orthography of the track-listing, with inconsistent use of capitals and punctuation. One or two titles of HC Andersen's stories, well-known to generations of children, are rendered inaccurately, giving 'It is quite certain' in place of the standard 'It's quite true!' or 'The hardy tin soldier' for 'The steadfast tin soldier'. On the other hand, given that Andersen's works have been plagued since publication by shoddy translations, perhaps the source of these titles lies elsewhere - certainly Stephen Coombs uses the same in his Hyperion recording.
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Somero plays Bortkiewicz with enthusiasm and dexterity.