If you’re not familiar with the music of Sergei Bortkiewicz this release is a great place to start. Russian pianist and composer Bortkiewicz was a contemporary of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Nicolai Medtner.

Like them, he fully embraced the Romantic aesthetic throughout his life. Bortkiewicz seems to have just ignored Stravinsky, Bartok, and Schoenberg.

His Second Piano Concerto was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, the left-handed pianist. It’s an astonishing difficult work for a one-handed player. And it’s one of breathtaking beauty.

Bortkiewicz had an innate gift of melody. The entire composition just seems to sing.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor is titled “Per Aspera ad Astra” (through hardship to the stars). Bortkiewicz and his wife fled Russia in 1919 and after a series of struggles were finally granted Austrian citizenship in 1925.

The Piano Concerto No. 3 was completed the following year, and it’s easy to hear that struggle in the work. It begins very darkly in C minor, and gradually transitions to a radiant C major by the fifth and final movement.

Pianist Stefan Doniga plays with power and authority. These are powerfully emotional works, especially as performed here. The Janacek Philharmonic Orchestra under David Porcelijn also does an exceptional job.

Bortkiewicz’s full-bodied concertos have roaring climaxes, but they also have quiet moments of delicate lyricism. Both are present in these exceptional performances.

Bortkiewicz never quite got his due during his lifetime. Recordings like this may help to correct that.

Sergei Bortkiewicz: Piano Concertos 2 & 3
Stefan Doniga, piano
Janacek Philharmonic Orhcestra; David Porcelijn, conductor
Piano Classics PCL10146