> DOHNANYI Piano Concertos 1&2 [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor, Opus 5 (1897-8)
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B minor, Opus 42 (1947)
Martin Roscoe (piano)
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra/Fedor Glushchenko
Rec 17-18 June 1993, Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow
The Romantic Piano Concerto: Volume 6
HYPERION CDA66684 [74.56]


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The Hungarian composer Ernst (Ernö) von Dohnányi is well known in his homeland but less celebrated internationally. Over the years his most famous composition has been another piano concerto, the Variations on a Nursery Song, but in truth he was prolific, and was admired by fellow musicians from the time of Brahms (whom he knew) through to his final years in the United States.

As a young man Dohnányi was a virtuoso pianist, and it shows in his Piano Concerto No. 1, which he composed in 1897-98. It is nothing if not substantial in scale, lasting for a full 45 minutes, and cast in the conventional three-movement design with the slow movement at the centre. The style is very much of its time, with a full awareness of Liszt and Brahms, but without the challenging qualities of the harmonic language of Bartók.

There is an heroic, almost epic quality about the outer movements, both of which approach 20 minutes in duration. This puts a strong demand upon the soloist, of course, and in this sense Martin Roscoe does not disappoint. For he is a splendid pianist, who sounds very much inside the music and thoroughly in command of the technique required. If there is a criticism of the performance it is probably more to do with the balancing of piano and orchestra, since the solo piano does sometimes sound swamped by the massive orchestral sound, and details of articulation can disappear. Of course Dohnányi's skilful orchestration does not always place this consideration uppermost on the agenda, and in a movement of the size and scale of the opening Allegro maestoso there are many turns of direction and manner.

In the First Concerto the slow movement is perhaps the best. A brave and imaginative touch in the orchestration is that the strings play pizzicato for most of the time, while the melodic shaping is derived in large part from a subtle transformation of first movement material. It is all particularly well judged, and Roscoe plays with care and taste in every bar.

The finale returns to the heroic epic scale, and becomes more compelling as it reaches its final stages. Here Roscoe and the orchestra sweep the music on to a particularly exciting conclusion, just what the romantic piano concerto is all about.

There are fifty years between these two concertos, though the listener would not know it from the music. The Piano Concerto No. 2 was completed in 1947. It remains romantic in style (thus justifying its position in Hyperion's series), but the construction seems tighter than that of its earlier companion, and it is none the worse for that. This is reflected in the length, which comes out at around the 30 minute mark.

Again there are three movements in the traditional sequence, but the large first movement dominates the work, forming a half of its duration. Dohnányi opens with a theme which he develops obsessively, in the style of a motto, but there is also room for more indulgent lyric romantic gestures. The artists manage these contrasts well, maintaining the flow and convincing the listener of the structural purpose.

In his useful insert notes, the distinguished musicologist Otto Karolyi refers to the slow movement as occupying 'a stylised Hungarian gypsy style'. But it is not an indulgence, for in the final two movements the unity of the conception is a real priority, as the motto returns and the lively finale emerges as the only possible conclusion for the whole work. Again Roscoe is a convincing interpreter. Of the two concertos, the more carefully constructed Second is probably the more compelling, but the experience both works offer is thoroughly satisfying, and wholly justifies Hyperion's foray into this little known territory.
Terry Barfoot

Complete Hyperion Romantic Piano Concert series


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