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Erno DOHNANYI (1877 - 1960)
Variations on a Nursery Theme, Op. 25 (1914) [24’26"] (1)
Franz LISZT (1811 - 1886)
Totentanz (1865) [16’49"] (2)
Sergei RACHMANINOV (1873 - 1943)

Variations on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43 (1934) [23’09"] (3)
Witold LUTOSLAWSKI (1913 - 1994)
Paganini Variations for Piano and Orchestra (1978) [8’40"] (3)
Andras Schiff (piano)
Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
recorded in Orchestra Hall, Chicago in October 1985 (1).
Peter Katin (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Jean Martinon
recorded in Kingsway Hall, London, February 1954 (2)
Peter Jablonski (piano)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Ashkenazy
recorded in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London in October 1981 (Rachmaninov) and EMI Studios, Abbey Road, May 1991 (Lutoslawski) (3)
ADD/DDD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 7671 [73.18]


This is an enterprising compilation disc collecting four quite different works for piano and orchestra with death as the unifying topic. This is a little macabre, but still a good idea, given the choice of works. Indeed the coupling of the Dohnanyi and Rachmaninov used to be a favourite of Decca with Julius Katchen, both with the mono originals and also the stereo remake. The addition of the other two works adds to the interest, and makes for a well filled disc which is bound to bring enjoyment, given the extremely low price.

The Dohnanyi, played in thrilling fashion by Schiff, ably accompanied in typical fashion by Solti and his Chicago Orchestra is extremely exciting. The heavy brass, well known in this band, is very powerful indeed and the poor pianist must have been deafened. Decca have coped with the balance very well. I can thoroughly recommend this version of Dohnanyi’s ever entertaining and tuneful spoof of many of his contemporary and not so contemporary composer friends.

The Liszt Totentanz, although very well played by both soloist and orchestra does not have the tingle factor so evident in other hands for example when played by Gyorgy Cziffra with the Philharmonia and Andernoot (my own favourite). I know speed is not everything, but Cziffra knocks a full two minutes off this piece - which only lasts just about a quarter of an hour. Peter Katin sounds here as though he is having a bad day, which is a pity as he is normally quite a vital soloist. Even the presence of Jean Martinon cannot lift his work off the ground.

The next work on the disc is Rachmaninov’s ever-favourite set of variations based upon Paganini’s 24th caprice. The death reference comes from the Dies Irae, beloved by the composer, and sprinkled liberally through the score. I hadn’t heard this performance before, and enjoyed it very much. It is vital, and well played, and like the Second Piano Concerto, so popular in the catalogue that it is impossible to choose a best buy. Needless to say, this version stands up well to the old favourites including the version by the conductor himself.

The disc concludes with the much shorter set of Variations on the same Paganini caprice favoured by Rachmaninov. Without expanding to quite the extent of the Rachmaninov, this is well written and receives a first class performance.

I can recommend this disc without reservation unless you particularly want the Liszt, when I can direct you to better versions by far.

John Phillips

 

 



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