SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

MAXIM BEREZOVSKY: Secular Music performed by Pratum Integrum Orig. Instrument Orchestra, Russia

world premiere recordings of works by an 18th century Russian composer

Published on June 7, 2005

MAXIM BEREZOVSKY: Secular Music performed by Pratum Integrum Orig. Instrument Orchestra, Russia
MAXIM BEREZOVSKY: Secular Music = Sinfonia in C Major; Arias
from “Il Demofonte;” Harpsichord Sonatas in B Flat Major, C Major, F
Major; Sonata in C Major for Violin and Harpsichord; Concerto “Cast Me
Not Off in the Time of Old Age” – Pratum Integrum Orchestra (original
instruments) – Caro Mitis Multichannel SACD CM 0022003, 54:48 ***:

These are all world premiere recordings of music by a Russian composer
and singer who lived until 1777.  The performances are by a highly
skilled ensemble of young Russian musicians comprising one of the only
original instrument ensembles in Russia. We have reviewed earlier SACDs
from Caro Mitis; they are engineered primarily by Polyhymnia in Holland
and have the highest sonic standards.

There are opposing views of Berezovsky’s career, importance as a
composer, and death in at least two sources: the album’s note booklet
and Nicolas Slonimsky’s Baker’s Dictionary. Slonimsky dispenses with
the composer in a short paragraph, saying that the Russian court chapel
sent him to study in Bologna, Italy – where he wrote his opera Il
Demofonte. And that upon returning to Russia Italian musicians had
taken all the good positions, which made Berezovsky despondent and he
killed himself. The Russian authority who compiled the liner notes says
that upon his return Berezovsky actually got a very high position as
capellmeister of the Royal Court capella, and that he died while still
in his 30s from a disease. The suicide story evidently was started by
the composer’s first biographer, who talked about “hypochondria”
leading him to “a fever and insanity,” and making him “stab himself to
death.”

The opening Sinonia is considered very first Russian symphony.  It
is in a sort of generic 18th century style, as are the three sonatas
for harpsichord, which were just recently discovered. Berezovsky wrote
much liturgical music and his concerto for four voices “Cast me Not Off
in the Time of Old Age” is regarded as his greatest sacred work.
Therefore it seems odd that it is the closing, and most interesting
work, on this SACD with the overall title of Secular Music (although it
is an arrangement for string quartet rather than the original voices).
I’m sorry but although this is commendable production in all aspects, I
can’t fully agree with the notes’ characterization of Berezovsky as a
genius.

- John Sunier




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