The Bortkiewicz concerto has not been previously recorded because Wittgenstein stipulated as a part of the agreement of the commisson, that the full score and orchestral parts were to be exclusively owned by him. Furthermore, he also had exclusive performing rights of the work during his lifetime. Through this stipulation, Wittgenstein refused to allow other pianists to perform the works he had commissioned. This is probably the primary factor why Bortkiewicz’ score was never published in print, and why it fell into oblivion after the death of Bortkiewicz in 1952, and Wittgenstein in 1961. For years Wittgenstein’s widow kept the library of her husband locked in a room of her house, to which no one was permitted entry. After her death in 2001 the Wittgenstein library was auctioned at Sotheby’s, London in 2003. The library was bought by a Chinese entrepreneur. Even today this library, which is situated in Hong Kong and consists of further unpublished works of Bortkiewicz, is not available to researchers or musicians.
Thankfully, a copy of the score in manuscript appeared to be in the archive of Boosey & Hawkes, and with the generous support of the Dutch SNS Reaal Foundation, the Nederlands Muziek Instituut was able to record this unique romantic piano concerto for the left-hand only with its haunting themes.
The second work on the CD is the first recording of Bortkiewicz’ third piano concerto opus 32, Per aspera ad astra (through resistance into light). He wrote this concerto in 1926. This concerto was dedicated to the pianist, Paul de Conne, who helped Bortkiewicz to obtain Austrian citizenship in 1925. Bortkiewicz knew Paul de Conne already from the time when he studied piano at the Conservatory of Music in St. Petersburg with Karel van Ark (1839-1902). Paul de Conne was at that time the personal assistant to Van Ark. The programme of this concerto Per aspera ad astra is presented in the gradual unfolding from a dark and deep C minor to a high and radiant C major at the finale of the work including organ and bells as an affimation of light over darkness.
Both concertos receive a compelling performance by the Romanian pianist Stefan Doniga and the Czech Janácek Philharmonic Orchestra under direction of the Dutch conductor David Porcelijn.