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July 2022

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Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Violin Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.21 (1912) [18:28]
Four Rhapsodies, Op.11 (1902-03) [24:15]
Piano Concerto No.2 in B minor, Op.42 (1946-47) [27:27]
Ernst von Dohnányi (piano)
Albert Spalding (violin)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Adrian Boult
rec. 1951, NYC (Rhapsodies); 1952, NYC (Sonata); September 1956, EMI Abbey Road Studio No.1, London (Concerto)
Ambient Stereo except the Concerto; full stereo

The real prize here for rarity is the recording of Dohnányi’s Violin Sonata. Recorded in 1952, it wasn’t released until 1978 when it appeared on a Varèse Sarabande LP. It joins Pristine Audio’s restoration of the Brahms sonata collaborations of Dohnányi and the elegant American violinist Albert Spalding [Pristine Audio PACM078]. In a sense it’s not a real reflection of Spalding’s stature, any more than the Brahms Sonatas which were made for Remington the previous year, given that Spalding had retired and was soon to die. Thus Spalding’s intonation wavers too often in the C sharp minor sonata, and there are several points where his technique buckles under the strain of Dohnányi’s passagework. Add to this the increasing thinness of Spalding’s tone, especially at the top, and one might be forgiven for thinking this little more than a historical curio, an artefact beloved of collectors and completists but of no real function beyond that rather rarefied, somewhat obsessive community. That would not wholly be so. The performance demarcates how Dohnányi wanted his sonata to ‘go’ and Spalding does generate a degree of romantic intensity, not least via his expressive and pervasive portamenti. There is plenty of drive in the outer sections of the finale and phrasal nobility from the violinist, though the tonal colour of his best days is long gone. So, it’s no match violinistically for Ricci, or Shumsky, or even - more relevantly in terms of its time period, perhaps - for the English violinist Thomas Matthews who recorded it on 78s for Australian Columbia. Then again, this is Dohnányi’s sonata and he is playing the piano - no small inducement.
Another valuable item is the 1951 Remington LP transfer of the Four Rhapsodies, Op.11. There has been no CD transfer of this either. Though volume levels fluctuate in the original set-up, one can only admire the composer-pianist’s command, not least in the post-Lisztian heroics of the G minor or in the pugnacious Mussorgskian moments of the C major. This is the one with sound level fluctuation and also some inherent tape wobbles. The Dies Irae courses through the final E flat minor.
The transfer of the Second Piano Concerto recording is in stereo, taken from an American Angel source. It was recorded in London with Boult and the RPO, the composer once more the executant. Couched in late-Romantic vernacular, the urgent March theme of the first movement imparts a Brahms cum Rachmaninov cum Liszt patina to the work. In the slow movement, though, one hears a considerable amount of refined pianism and Boult draws out some distinguished string tone from the orchestra even though thematically things are not especially distinctive. The chattering winds in the finale beckon liveliness and the loquacious high spirits are duly forthcoming; an amiable fugato included.
I should finally re-emphasise the point in the headnote: that the first two items are in ambient stereo, whilst the concerto is in full stereo.
Jonathan Woolf