Dmitry Bortnyansky, THE RUSSIAN ALBUM
July-August 2009, "American Record Guide" magazine
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.