Tuesday 15 November 2016

Italian pianist Alfonso Soldano makes a valuable addition to Divine Art’s fine Russian Piano Music Series with a new release of piano works by Sergei Bortkiewicz

Only five years younger than Sergei Rachmaninov composer and pianist, Sergei Bortkiewicz (1877-1952) https://sergeibortkiewicz.com was born in Kharkiv, Ukraine to a Polish noble family, spending most of his childhood on the nearby family estate of Artemivka. He studied with Anatoly Lyadov and Karl von Arek at the Conservatory in Saint Petersburg before traveling to Leipzig, where he became a student of Franz Liszt pupils, Alfred Reisenauer and Salomon Jadassohn. After completing his studies he returned to Ukraine where he married, before settling in Berlin.

Concert tours regularly took him around Europe but at the outbreak of World War I he was forced to leave Germany and returned to Kharkiv, where he taught and gave concerts. The Russian Revolution forced the composer and his family to flee the family estate at Artëmovka for Constantinople where, with the help of the court pianist to the Sultan, Ilen Ilegey, Bortkiewicz began to give concerts and started teaching again. They eventually moved to Austria settling in Baden before moving to Vienna where he was to remain for the next five years and where in 1925 he and his family finally obtained Austrian citizenship.

World War II brought further privations but he continued to teach and continue composition. In 1945 Bortkiewicz was appointed director of a master class at the Vienna City Conservatory, which helped to give the composer some of the financial security he sought. His 75th birthday was celebrated by a concert in the Musikverein in Vienna.

Bortkiewicz’s works include an opera, Die Akrobaten, Op. 50 and a ballet Arabische Nächte, Op. 37 together with two symphonies, other orchestral works, concertos including three for piano and orchestra, chamber works and a large number of works for piano.

It is a selection of Bortkiewicz’s works for piano that feature on Vol. 12 of Divine Art’s www.divine-art.co.uk/DAhome.htm  Russian Piano Music Series played by Italian pianist Alfonso Soldano www.istitutobraga.it/docente/alfonso-soldano

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The works on this new disc range across Bortkiewicz’s compositional life commencing here with his Lyrica Nova, Op. 59 (1940) published by Universal Edition in Vienna. The Con moto affettuoso brings a lovely melody, full of wistful feeling with Alfonso Soldano providing fluent playing, lovely rolling chords together with moments of fine delicacy. The Andantino opens with a gentle descending theme before travelling through bars of quietly flowing melody, later rising in strength before a gentle coda. The following Andantino brings a sense of nostalgia in its finely shaped melody with Soldano finding every little detail before a lovely coda. The shorter Con slancio brings a more forceful nature with a directness of utterance to close this set.
The Etude in D flat major, Op. 15: No. 8 (1911) was dedicated to one of his teachers, the German pianist and composer Alfred Reisenauer (1863-1907). It is beautifully phrased and shaped by this pianist with some lovely trickling phrases that appear, revealing the influence of Chopin, rising through some more dramatic moments where the music comes closer to early Scriabin before falling to a quiet coda.

Bortkiewicz’s Nocturne No.1 from Trois Morceaux, Op. 24 (1922) was dedicated to Natalie Chaponitsch, the wife of the Yugoslavian ambassador in Istanbul. It is another piece that draws on the influence of early Scriabin, beautifully shaped and exquisitely delicate, with lovely shifting harmonies, quite beautifully played here. 

Esquisses de Crimée, Op.8 (1908) dedicated to Madame Julie Kharine reveals the composer’s study with Liszt’s pupil, Reisenauer. No. 1. Les rochers d'Outche-Coche opens slowly and darkly before developing through passages of strength and power. The darker opening re-appears overlaid with rippling right hand decorations. The music develops in strength again through passages of increasing virtuosity, reminiscent at times of Liszt with Soldano bringing his impressive technique providing fluency and clarity. No. 2. Caprices de la mer develops through some constantly shifting phrases that evoke the movement of the sea before speeding through a faster passage of fleeting ideas. The music finds its former rolling flow before speeding to the coda.

No. 3. Les promenades des d'Aloupka: Idylle orientale brings a rhythmic idea that is developed through some fine passages that evoke an Eastern feel with moments of great vibrancy before a quiet coda. No. 4. Les promenades des d'Aloupka:Chaos opens with broad phrases as it moves quickly forward, soon finding a staccato section revealing a Bach like fugue that is soon varied. The opening returns to lead us quickly to the coda where the fugal theme makes a re-appearance.

Next Alfonso Soldano plays Three Preludes, first the Prelude, Op. 13: No. 5 (1910) where he reveals a gentle, poised theme that is subtly developed through some exquisite bars, slowly gaining strength before finding a gentle coda. Prelude, Op. 40: No. 4 (1931) has some lovely shifting harmonies that bring a Scriabinesque beauty, exquisitely played. There is a warmth to the opening of the Prelude, Op. 66: No. 3 (1946) that rises subtly. There is a constantly heard left hand rhythmic line before the music rises more forcefully only to fall back again. The music develops through some of this composer’s finest ideas, though with Scriabin still lurking in the background at times, to a quiet gentle coda.

The Piano Sonata No. 2 in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 60 (1942) was dedicated to the Austrian art historian, Hans Ankwicz-Kleehoven (1883-1962) and first performed by the composer in the Brahms Saal of the Musikverein in Vienna. In four movements the Allegro ma non troppo opens with a stormy, passionate theme. There is a certain Russianness running through the music, even with hints of Rachmaninov.  The music moves through quieter moments as it develops with ever changing rhythms and tempi that suggest the influence of Medtner. This pianist brings a fine fluency and coherence to the music before the opening theme returns in the coda. A faltering staccato march opens the Allegretto, soon developing through a more flowing passage. There are further firm staccato passages as the movement builds in power before the sprung dance rhythm of a polonaise, appears. The music develops through some impressive ideas with moments of great delicacy and fluidity before the opening march returns to take the music forcefully to the end.

The Andante misericordioso opens with a funereal series of chords out of which emerges a lovely melody that lightens the mood before moving through passages of great sensitivity and feeling as the music slows to a series of tentative gentle chords as the theme is ruminated on.  The mood lightens again as the earlier melody returns. However, the darker nature is brought back as the coda arrives. A brief, fluent Agitato concludes this sonata with a buoyant dance like central section before the passionate theme of the first movement is heard and the music moves quickly to a resolute coda.

This is a particularly attractive sonata in all its varying moods.

This is a valuable addition to this fine series, well recorded at the Concert Hall of the European Arts Academy ‘Aldo Ciccolini, Trani, Italy. There are excellent booklet notes and photographs.

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