Bortnyansky Orch Wks Caro Mitis 8/9 C

Review by: David Hurwitz

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

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.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

DMITRI BORTNYANSKY - March in C; Sinfonia concertante in B-flat; Quintet in C; Piano Sonatas Nos. 1-3

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