"American Record Guide", July-August 2009: Dmitry Bortnyansky, THE RUSSIAN ALBUM
Dmitri Bortniansky (1751-1825) is not a very well known Russian composer but deserves to be. He studied first in St Petersburg, but, on the recommendation of his teacher, Baldassare Galuppi, he was sent to Venice for further study. He remained there for 10 years and composed many operas, but only three survive. They were greeted by the approval of experts and the general public. After his return the Empress Catherine herself enjoyed his compositions. Paisiello was then the reigning star of the court opera, so Bortniansky was assigned as Kapellmeister of the court choir. He remained closely related with the choir for the balance of his life and wrote many fine sacred concertos for it. In addition, he was made the official of the "minor court" of the Crown Prince Paul and his wife, Princess Maria Fyodorovna, who became his veritable patron saint. He composed music for the Prince's military exercises, taught the Princess to play the fortepiano, and arranged concerts and operas for both of them. All of the works on this recording were composed for this couple and their musical establishment, mostly in the late 1760s and early 1790s. The Princess herself played the fortepiano and harp in them. (Judging by the quality of Bortniansky's writing she was a gifted performer) .
After Paul became emperor in 1791, Bortniansky was elevated in his position as choral conductor and remained in that position for the balance of his life. He conducted St Petersburg performances of Haydn's Creation and Cherubini's Requiem. After his death his wife gave his scores to the Choir. The sacred music continued to be performed, but his secular music was largely forgotten. After the 1917 Revolution the collection of his works was effectively destroyed. Some works were scattered but most were simply lost. Considering the few works that have survived, one can only hope that somehow more will eventually be recovered.
The March was written in 1787 for the Prince's military exercises. It is well written and is performed here by pairs of oboes, natural horns, and a bassoon.
The Sinfonia Concertante dates from 1790 and is a festively written work that is quite innovative. It is very enjoyable and sparkles as one listens to it.
The three fortepiano sonatas that have survived are nicely written and have an elegance and lightness
The Quintet is another splendid work that is unusually scored for fortepiano, harp, violin, viola da gamba, and cello. It has a good structure and is imaginatively written.
The Harpsichord Concerto evidently only survives in one movement in the French National Library. It is again imaginative in its writting and is very pleasing.
Bortniansky's writing is quite memorable and will be attractive to anyone interested in music from Mozart's time. Caro Mitis is a Russian product that is easy to recommend; the recording quality is superb and the performances are beyond reproach. The note" unlike earlier Russian productions. are detailed and generally well translated. There are eight pages of a decent-size type.
Opus Haute Définition: D. Bortnyansky The Russian Album
Après un très bel enregistrement intitulé « The Italian Album », le Pratum Integrum Orchestra revient à Dimitri Bortnyansky pour un album russe cette fois. Comme je le disais dans ma chronique du précédent album, Bortnyansky fut un musicien « discret » qui laissa, tout de même pas loin de deux cents partitions, dans des genres différents. Cinq opéras, des concertos pour clavecin, des chants, près d’une centaine de chorals, des concertos pour quatre voix et deux chœurs, des motets etc… Aujourd’hui, ce Super Audio CD nous fait découvrir, des pièces admirables, comme une symphonie concertante datant de 1790, pour pianoforte, harpe, deux violons, viole de gambe, basson et violoncelle, trois sonates pour clavecin, jouées ici au pianoforte, un quintette de 1787 pour pianoforte, harpe, viole de gambe et violoncelle, ainsi qu’un concerto pour clavecin dans son premier mouvement. Une nouvelle fois, dans une prise de son remarquable de chaleur et de finesse, en pur DSD, l’orchestre russe parvient, avec délicatesse, sans emphase à faire partager sa passion pour ce compositeur attachant qui mériterait une place plus importante dans l’univers de la musique classique. Un enregistrement rare qui comporte, comme souvent chez ce label, des premières mondiales au disque.
Audiophile Audition Review: DMITRY BORTNYANSKY: The Russian Album -
The Pratum Integrum original instrument Orchestra plays first recordings of this Russian composer
Bortnyansky, although born about the same time as Berezovsky (on the
other Caro Mitis SACD reviewed this time) and similarly starting as a
choirboy at the court chapel in St. Petersburg and then being sent to
Italy for study, lived a much longer life than his follow composer – to
1825. Upon his return to the Russian court he became director of
vocal music at the court chapel and improved singing standards as well
as composing many sacred choral works and three comic operas in French.
Manuscripts of Bortnyansky’s many secular works were lost until a
festival of his music in l901, and more have been recently brought to
light. This disc samples some of them. The prince and his wife who
Bortnyansky served at the Russian ‘minor court” played harpsichord and
harp, so the harpsichord concerto and solo sonatas were probably for
them to perform. Both the Sinfonie concertante and the Quintet in C
Major include both harp and fortepiano – the first considered one of
the best pieces of Russian instrumental music before Glinka. It also
was scored for two violins, viola da gamba, bassoon and cello. The
Baroque violins in this ensemble sound rather steely and wiry to me,
and it is certainly not a fault of the audio engineering.
Bertnyansky’s music is mostly in the style of early Mozart and
enjoyable, but he is no Mozart. The surrounds are used strictly
for hall ambience.
"Classics Today": Bortnyansky Orch Wks Caro Mitis 8/9 C -
There’s too much Latin going on here: the name of the orchestra sounds like a legal defense and that of the label like an incurable disease, but having said that, there’s a lot to enjoy musically. Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751-1825) is best known for his sacred concertos for choir, which are late works dating from the 1790s and beyond. Prior to that he composed a great deal of secular music, both vocal and instrumental, most of which apparently was lost after the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. This disc contains a miscellaneous smattering of pieces, all written after 1779 in Russia following the composer’s decade of study in Italy. They are well performed and very well recorded in both stereo and multichannel formats.
Two of the pieces are anomalous: the Harpsichord Concerto is a single-movement reconstruction of a lost original, and the tiny March for some reason is a transcription, with two oboes replacing its original two clarinets (plus two horns and bassoon). It’s a bit of a pity because the presence of the clarinets would have added another layer to the curious mixture of old and new that you hear in these pieces. The Sinfonia concertante, for example, actually is a septet for the odd combination of fortepiano (originally a piano/organ hybrid), harp, two violins, viola da gamba, bassoon, and cello. Similarly, the Quintet requires piano, harp, violin, viola da gamba, and cello.
The music is charming in the Italian manner of the day, unchallenging, yet texturally entrancing, and I like the sounds these players make on their authentic instruments, particularly the sweet-toned fortepiano (a bit too much mechanical noise, though), which balances well with the miscellany of other instruments. The bassoon toots like a foghorn, which is not always a bad thing. Rounding out the collection are three piano sonatas, those in F and B-flat having but a single short movement, with the one in C more substantial: three movements lasting some 15 minutes. Mozart or Haydn this is not, but it does reveal Bortnyansky to be a gifted and versatile jack-of-all-trades, instrumentally speaking, and a fluent provider of entertainment music for the Russian court. If this period or locale interests you, then by all means give this disc a shot.