Pratum Integrum Orchestra

Dimitry Bortnyansky: The Italian Album

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Dimitry Bortnyansky, one of the few Russian composers of the eighteenth century whose works are at all played in the West, made an Italian journey when he was in his twenties, in the late 1770s. The purpose was further study with his teacher, Baldassare Galuppi, whom Catherine the Great had brought to Russia. While he was there he fulfilled various commissions for secular and sacred vocal works, which are sampled on this album. The subject matter seems slight for all but specialists, but the music has a distinctive style. The disc is also noteworthy for being one of the few historical-insturment recordings to emanate from Russia thus far. The Pratum Integrum Orchestra has a very unusual sound that listeners should liberally sample. Both their playing and the recording itself hold to a very low dyanamic range, with the orchestra's natural horns and trumpets blending with the strings in a kind of haze of sound. The high point may come at the very beginning with a three-movement Sinfonia in C major, extracted from an opera called Il Quinto Fabio; it works fine as an independent work and has an impressive spatial reach. The secular arias that follow are hampered by pitch insecurities on the part of the female vocal soloists, but things pick up with the four motets on the second half of the recording; the last three of these, like the arias in the first half, have never been recorded before. They're little Classical-style pieces with solo and ensemble numbers, accompanied by a small orchestra. The booklet notes emphasize Bortnyansky's indebtedness to the language of opera seria, but his melody is more natural than that of his Italian contemporaries and represented an independent discovery of the straightforward language and emotional range of the late eighteenth century. The Ave Maria for soprano, alto, and orchestra (1775), especially, is simple and fresh. An offbeat disc, nicely recorded, that will be of most interest to collectors of Russian music.

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