The Chronicle

This is an excellent CD from Divine Art, pianist Alfonso Soldano playing the work of Ukrainian Sergei Bortkiewicz to a high standard, and Bortkiewicz proving to be an interesting composer.

Wikipedia reports that he had a life that was at times very hard: in World War I and living in Berlin, he was placed under house arrest and then forced to leave Germany. In WW2, he had it even tougher and wrote to a friend that he was writing from the bathroom, which had the advantage of being small and so could be warmed with a gas light. “Life is becoming more and more unpleasant, merciless,” he wrote.

This CD doesn’t have anything of that and only sounds Russian in places. Bortkiewicz’s style was based on Liszt and Chopin, as well as Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Ukrainian folklore, and the opening work Lyrica Nova, Op. 59 is charming, with a folky feel. Its four pieces are descriptions of the view around a city on the Crimean Peninsula.

As a whole the CD leans towards the romantic; we were expecting a rather austere Russian sound but there’s little of that. In places, it’s perhaps a little ornate, almost to the point where you could imagine a player deliberately hamming it up, but not quite. Very enjoyable, and accessible for the more casual listener.

—Jeremy Condliffe