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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Ernst von DOHNANYI (1877-1960)
American Rhapsody Op.47
Harp Concertino Op.45
Romanza (from Serenade in C Op.10) arr Sitkovetski
Violin Concerto No.2 Op.43
Wedding Waltz Op.18 No.4

Janice Graham (violin)
Lucy Wakeford (harp)
English Sinfonia/John Farrer
Recorded : Watford Colosseum 3-5 October 2000
ASV CD DCA 1107 [71.23]


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I must confess to being utterly charmed and won over by anything Dohnanyi wrote, for he is both a supreme melodist and a superb orchestrator. The opening and closing works here make both points, the first (his last orchestral work written in 1953) is cleverly and wittily packed with quotations from ‘On top of Old Smokey’ to ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’ with Dvorak’s New World symphony in between. Like the latter work, it is the product of an Eastern European artist resident in the United States at the time, though whereas Dvorak’s was only a matter of long visits Dohnanyi as an exile had emigrated and taken American nationality. The Waltz, highly Straussian (J and R), comes from his first stage work, a ballet called The Veil Of Pierette and written in 1908/9.

In between come the two concertos. The Harp Concertino also written in America (1952) is a really beautiful work, compactly presented in a single movement. The writing is highly idiomatic and typically French in style (Debussy and Ravel never far away), well suited to the instrument, and exploring many of its achievable effects. By way of contrast the second of his violin concertos (1949/50), begins astringently in a rather unclear and even threatening idiom, but then blossoms into a full Korngold-flowering of highly lyrical music. Like the Second Piano Concerto by Brahms (a strong influence) it is a four-movement, almost symphonic, structure, cadenzas abound, virtuosic playing is called for. It is one of the last in the mould of the great Romantic violin concertos. Dohnanyi may have encouraged his younger compatriots, Bartók and Kodaly but he certainly never wrote like them, although all three imbue their music with a true Hungarian flavour.

The music is given fine performances by all concerned. Janice Graham vacates her Leader’s desks (with the English Sinfonia featured here and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales) and rises to the tricky demands of the concerto with sweet-toned, full-blooded playing. In the Harp Concertino Lucy Wakeford is outstanding. The American conductor John Farrer secures fine playing from the English Sinfonia, an orchestra with a chequered past but, on the basis of this recording, a bright future. It makes a good companion disc to the ones of Dohnanyi’s music issued by Chandos (CHAN 9733) of the Suite, Nursery Theme Variations, and a larger, four-movement selection (including the Wedding Waltz) from the Veil of Pierette, with the BBC Philharmonic under Matthias Bamert three years ago, and the two companion discs of the two symphonies (CHAN 9647 and CHAN 9455 respectively).

Christopher Fifield


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