posted by James Reel
Dmitry Bortnyansky (1751–1825), a longer-lived Russian contemporary of Mozart, is remembered today chiefly for his important contributions to Russian Orthodox church music. But a splendid SACD by the Russian period-instrument orchestra Pratum Integrum demonstrates that there was far more to Bortnansky than solemn, bass-rich hymns. He spent much of the 1770s in Italy, studying with Baldassare Galuppi, and his music from that period, both secular and sacred, compares favorably to that of the two greatest composers of the day, Mozart and Haydn.
About half this disc samples Bortnyansky’s modest but idiomatic contributions to the Italian opera stage; the second half is devoted to motets, some in single movements, some multi-movement works. The disc opener, the overture to the opera Il quinto Fabio , is energetic (and exuberantly played), solidly crafted and rather Haydnesque (inspired by his Sturm und Drang manner, but happy rather than stormy and stressful). The vocal pieces, arias and motets alike, are more reminiscent of Mozart’s sacred music. All in all, there’s real vitality, rather than mere busyness, to this music, and true grace in the slower vocal movements, where lesser composers might merely trudge.
The surround sonics are extraordinarily natural, as is usual from this label. If you’re interested in the Classical era beyond Mozart and Haydn, this would be a fine disc for you to hear.