Dohnányi left only forty three opus numbers when he died at age 83.
And he is really only remembered for his Nursery Theme Variations and
the Wedding Waltz. He was, in fact, a greatly respected concert pianist
(regarded, because of his impressive virtuosity, as the successor to Liszt),
conductor and teacher.
The Veil of Pierrette (1908-09) is known only for its last movement.
This, the Wedding Waltz, is music that everybody recognises as a light
music favourite; the kind that one knows well, but never knows the title.
The three preceding movements are receiving their premiere recording on this
album and together they comprise a charming suite. The work opens with 'Pierrot's
Love-lament', a sad little piece with sighing, lamenting lower strings -
poor Pierrot is quite inconsolable in his grief although he shows brief flashes
of anger and resentment at his predicament. The following movements are more
joyful. The waltz-rondo is a charming parody of a Strauss waltz, while the
Merry Funeral March a real contradiction, is a witty confection - perhaps
the Commedia Dell'arte characters were getting up to their usual mischief?
But the Wedding Waltz is all headlong gaiety - and, ah that tune!
The Suite in f sharp minor again shows off Dohnányi's gift
for parody. The opening movement is a sparkling set of variations (a favourite
musical form for the composer). The theme is rather Dvorak-like and the
variations sunny and melodic. The woodwinds are given a lot of joyous material,
they bubble and skip merrily away and often laugh at the pomposity of the
heavier brass. There are some warm-hearted string tunes too. The second movement
is a strong scherzo with a rousing central peroration. The third Romance:
Andante poco moto movement is an exotic mix of styles a sort of Arabian Nights
atmosphere - sensuous and languorous - rubs shoulders with more urgent Magyar
rhythms and inflections. The Rondo finale begins sounding like Tchaikovsky
and ends like Brahms. The music sparkles, flutters and flirts, rushing along
headlong until the tempo relaxes for beauty and romance.
I will admit that Dohnányi's great musical send-up, his
NurseryVariations has always been a favourite of mine. Who could resist
the piano's coy tongue-in-cheek announcement of the 'Twinkle, twinkle, little
star' theme after such a long, inflated, self-important peroration? Who could
resist the lovely graceful, lilting waltzes that are Variations 3 and 7,
so beguilingly shaped by Bamert, or the charm of the music box Variation.
Then there is that too haunting rather nostalgic Alla Marcia with
its echoing horns not to mention the grotesqueries of the Presto
Variation 9 sounding like skeletons dancing and the grave dignity of
the great Passacaglia Variation 10 with its wonderful noble melody
full of Rachmaninov-like melancholic intensity. Although this performance
cannot quite dispel the memory of the celebrated 1960 recording made by Julius
Katchen and the LPO conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, it is nevertheless a very
fine reading with Howard Shelley entering into the spirit of this satire
with sensitivity and gusto.