Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) is a composer who left his homeland after the 1917 revolution and who sought to continue his career in the West. Having not previously heard anything by this composer, his music at first reminds one of Rachmaninov and Scriabin whilst somewhat in the overly romantic style which quickly became outdated with the emergence of Prokofiev and Stravinsky. Bortkiewicz studied with Lyadov and Karel van Ark in St Petersburg, and in Leipzig with Reisenauer (a pupil of Liszt).
Bortkiewicz was a dedicated melodist and despised the new ‘modernism’ and to the end maintained his style. His career was disturbed greatly by the worst events of the 20th century and was placed in house arrest in Germany during the Great War, lost his family property after the revolution and his publishers were destroyed during allied bombing in 1943 and when almost all his printed music was burnt to a cinder. Between the two wars Bortkiewicz was based in Vienna and he enjoyed a busy career conducting, teaching and playing the piano. He also translated Tchaikovsky’s letters to Nadezhda von Meck.
All of these pieces are written superbly with myriad beautiful ideas emerging from the very capable fingers of Soldano who has accepted the challenge of bringing this composer’s music to a wider audience. Yet well written as they are, there lacks a distinctive personality which makes his compatriots the more distin¬guished of composers. The most significant work is the Piano Sonata No. 2 in C sharp minor which is Scriabinesque yet has many finely written pages, also I liked his Esquisses de Crimee, and which is in the mood of Liszt’s late impress¬ionism with an oriental colour. Much of this music is for the ‘salon’ and this is not meant to be dismissive for indeed much of Scriabin was composed for the ‘salon’ and anyone buying this disc will find many hours of pleasure.
The Italian pianist Alfonso Soldano is a dedicated interpreter of this composer and there is a fine affinity with this music clearly apparent in his beautifully wrought melodies at the keyboard. Bortkiewicz composed four piano concertos, two symphonies and an opera and certainly this disc makes me want to hear those too but one would hear late romanticism without the depth of emotion and invention prevalent in the finest Russian composers of the last century. The recording is excellent as are all of the CDs from this company and the notes by Wouter Kalkman and Mr Soldano are informative. Recommended.(Five stars)