Arensky/Bortkiewicz

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Arensky/Bortkiewicz
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Piano Concerto in F minor; Fantasia on Russian Folksongs’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat
PERFORMER: Stephen Coombs (piano)BBC Scottish SO/Jerzy Maksymiuk
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66624 DDD
The number of Romantic piano concertos with a firm foothold in the repertory is relatively small and Hyperion are doing us an invaluable service with their Romantic Piano Concerto series. The Arensky F minor is every Forties filmgoer’s dream of what such a concerto should be: Tchaikovskian rhetoric tempered by Chopinesque lyricism. Very popular with virtuosos earlier this century, it fell out of favour on account of its derivativeness and apparent superficiality. It’s a work of modest proportions, excellently crafted, with strong ideas, deliciously presented. Stephen Coombs brings the appropriate flair and introspection to the piano part and Maksymiuk offers spirited accompaniments.

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The Bortkiewicz concerto, on a larger scale, doesn’t quite sustain its ambitious proportions. The model is Rachmaninov, though it lacks his sense of cumulative tension, panache and sheer memorability, and the finale goes through some hollow patches. But, like the Arensky, it’s the work of a skilled craftsman – not short of striking material and presented in the best possible light. Anthony Bye