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Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Song Cycles
Seven Songs to Poems by Paul Verlaine Op. 23 (1918)
Im Park, Song Cycle after Curt Böhmer Op. 56 (1940)
Sternflug des Herzens, Seven Songs after Grete Köber Op. 62 (1942)
Krzysztof Szumański (baritone), Bojana Dimković (piano)
No recording details given
ORPHÉE CLASSICS 5902205589098 [43:40]

The music of Sergei Bortkiewicz has come a long way since his first tentative piano music with Stephen Coombs, but it has been an impressive journey, including symphonies, concertos and a couple of surveys of what has been described as the ‘complete piano music’. Now we have a new disc of three interesting, enjoyable and very well performed song cycles.

The composer, born in present day Kharkiv in the Ukraine, is a member of a Polish noble family; he received his musical from Anatoly Lyadov at the Imperial Conservatory of Music in Saint Petersburg. After completing his studies there, he moved to Leipzig where her continued at the Conservatory, where he won the Schumann Prize on his graduation in 1902. On returning home, he married a friend of his sister and the couple settled in Berlin where he sought to make a living as a composer and teacher. During the First World War, as a citizen of the Russian Empire, he was deported from Germany, returned home and was then caught up in the events of the Russian Revolution, when his family estate was confiscated. He fled to Turkey, and then via Serbia to Vienna where he eventually became an Austrian citizen, just in time to be persecuted by the Nazis. Life during the Second World War was very difficult, and it was all he could do to eke out an existence. After the war, things improved as he was appointed to the staff of the Vienna City Conservatory, which put him on a firmer financial footing. He died on the 25th October 1952, never having recovered from an operation for a stomach complaint.

His piano music is reminiscent of Chopin, with more than a hint of Rachmaninov, and it is the latter, along with a hint of Slavonic folklore, that comes through in these songs. Strongly melodic, the first cycle of songs, however, also give more than a nod towards the French Impressionists. Their texts are by Paul Verlaine, set in their original French. The texts of the remaining cycles are in the original German of poems by Curt Böhmer and Grete Köber, both new to me, a quick Google search not turning up much about either. Here we come to the main drawback to this release: apart from the briefest biography of the composer, we get the same amount for each of the musicians and there is no information about the songs on this disc. While the texts of the Verlaine are easy to track down, I have had no success with those of the other two poets. Another drawback is the disc’s short measure.

That is a shame, as the performances of Krzysztof Szumański and Bojana Dimković are excellent, as is the recorded sound. There is no sign of Szumański’s Polish accent in either the French or German songs, and Dimković proves a thoughtful interpreter of the music, with the duo working well together. One word of warning though: a quick search on a couple of online purchasing pages only brings up the download as being available and not the CD.

Stuart Sillitoe 

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