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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Serenade in C, Op. 10 (1902) [20’53]
Sextet in C, Op. 37 (1935) [29’20].
Spectrum Concerts Berlin.
Rec. Teldec Studio, Berlin, on 21st June 2002 (Op. 10); 30th December 2001 (Op. 37) DDD
NAXOS 8.557153 [50’12]


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Spectrum Concerts Berlin is a sensitive, responsive group of musicians who do Dohnányi’s cause a great service with this disc. It is a pity that they could not fill up more of the recordable space the medium of CD offers. In fact the playing time leaves nearly half an hour spare for another piece. Coming hard on the heels of the recent Caprice disc of Dohnányi’s Violin Sonata in C sharp minor, Op. 21 of 1912 (played by Cecilia Zilliacus, violin and Bengt-Åke Lundin, piano on CAP21612: see review), it would appear we are in a prime position as record collectors for a reappraisal of this composer.

Actually, the Op. 10 Serenade for string trio has been fairly well represented. Heifetz, Primrose and Feuermann recorded it in 1941. For a more recent account, the Schubert Ensemble of London is on ASV and the Vienna String Trio is on Calliope. The Serenade was written in 1902. It opens with a brief March. Spectrum Concerts Berlin provides well-pointed annunciatory statements here, but equally take any opportunity for lyricism offered. The second movement Romanza and the fourth movements Theme and Variations are the highlights of the performance. Joël Waterman’s viola sings sweetly to usher in the Romanza, spun over a pizzicato accompaniment. The Theme of the fourth movement is given in heartfelt fashion. A bright and vital Scherzo separates them.

The coupling is interesting. Dohnányi’s Sextet in C, Op. 37 dates from 33 years later. It is a bigger-boned work, but possibly not the greater of the two. Schiff recorded this for Decca in the 1980s (with, amongst others, the Takács Quartet). The Endymion Ensemble brought their version to the listings in the 1990s. Spectrum Concerts Berlin plays the music for all it is worth, and the piece benefits from this sort of treatment. Certainly the dynamism of the opening (note Ron Schaaper’s vibrato-ed horn!: a nod towards Eastern Europe?) reveals a reading that takes the music towards the hyper-romantic on occasion. The fluent piano writing is creditably realised by Daniel Blumenthal (the coda is virtuoso material). If some moments in the Intermezzo could have been real magic (but are not, here), the third movement is distinguished by some cantabile horn playing (around six minutes in) and an expressive clarinet joins in to good effect. The finale is jolly (the interesting waltz-interruption gives a nice comic effect).

These are highly musical performances. The recording requires a little more resonance (pizzicati come across as very dry, for example, and some extra bloom around the sound would have added to the experience). However, well worth delving into.

Colin Clarke



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