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Sergei BORTKIEWICZ (1877-1952)
Violin Sonata in G minor op. 26 (1930s) [32:43]
Suite for violin and piano op. 63 (1940s) [13:28]
Three Piano Pieces (transcribed by the composer for violin and piano) [8:32]
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873-1943)

Morceaux de Salon op. 6 [8:39]
Cristian Persinaru (violin)
Nils Franke (piano)
Rec. Parry Hall, Eton College, 23-25 Oct 2002 (sonata, suite); 3-4 June 2004. DDD
WARNER APEX 2564 61990-2 [66:21]
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Bortkiewicz’s life story is a melancholy one. He could have recorded or made piano rolls like contemporaries such as Medtner and Rachmaninov but he execrated mechanical reproduction of music. While Rachmaninov turned his hand to concert tours Bortkiewicz would only play his own music.

He was born in the Ukraine, studied at St Petersburg and Leipzig, lived in Berlin brushing shoulders with Scharwenka, Busoni and d’Albert. The buffeting of the Great War forced a return to Russia but the Revolution drove him out first to Istanbul and then in 1922 to Vienna which remained his home from circa 1922 until the end of his life. Unlike Medtner he found no Maharajah of Mysore; there was to be no Maecenas for him. Rachmaninov prospered in Hollywood. Bortkiewicz put down roots in Vienna and sank deeper into neglect.

Bortkiewicz is another passionate late-romantic. Loosely speaking you could say that his idiom is early Rachmaninov - the Rachmaninov of the First Piano Concerto and The Rock. Tchaikovsky is a strong presence and Schumann is always in the background if filtered through turn-of-the-century musical voices - specifically Slav voices.
The big-boned Sonata was written in Vienna where the composer evidently remained in touch with the grand and turbulent spirit of the late nineteenth century. By contrast the Suite is, as expected, more gracious and ingratiating than impassioned. The same goes for the three transcriptions. The echoes are of Dvořák but with a throbbing Tchaikovskian sentimentality entering in the Meditation.

The recording is of epic range made in a resonant acoustic which gives emphasis to the piano although Persinaru’s Alessandro Gagliani instrument (c.1710) assertively cuts through.

If you have heard the piano concertos and two symphonies (Hyperion) you will, I think, agree that his music deserves better. Once again we are the losers by its neglect. This disc is warmly welcomed. I have high hopes that Hyperion might record his high-tide romantic concertos for violin and cello.

These are first studio recordings of the Bortkiewicz items but we should not forget the two vividly characterized Morceaux by Rachmaninov. Both have East European flavourings, zigeuner paprika. The Danse Hongroise has a number of gestures that inevitably remind the listener of this composer’s most famous piano prelude.
The notes are supplied by Ateş Orga - a writer we hear far too little from.

The unapologetic recording might be ‘strong meat’ to some ears but the music here is more than worth the bargain price asked of you by Warners. A strong late-romantic Russian contender among this month’s batch of new releases.

Rob Barnett


Biographical Links
Hyperion Piano Concerto No. 1
Hyperion Symphonies 1 and 2

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