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Ernő (Ernst von) DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Violin Concerto No.1 in D minor Op.27 (1915) [40:41]
Violin Concerto No.2 in C minor Op.43 (1949) [30:43]
Michael Ludwig (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, 20/21 August 2007. DDD
Booklet notes in English and German
NAXOS 8.570833 [71:24]
Experience Classicsonline

Firstly, Naxos bills Dohnányi in a curious mixture of the original Hungarian form of his name - albeit spelled wrongly - and the Germanisation (Ernst von Dohnányi). The latter he adopted for his professional career although the ‘von’ was completely bogus.
Unlike his closely contemporaneous compatriots, Béla Bartók and Zoltán Kodály, Dohnányi stayed firmly rooted in the central European Romantic tradition. Not for Dohnányi the exploration and collection of Hungarian folk music, although there are Hungarian ‘flavours’ in some of his music. Rather, he produced two massive symphonies, two large-scale Romantic piano concertos, many extended pieces of chamber and solo piano music, as well as some lighter – and better-known – works such as Ruralia Hungarica and the Variations on a Nursery Tune for piano and orchestra.
His two violin concertos are also substantial structures. Although the second is recorded elsewhere - by James Ehnes, no less - this recording of the first concerto from 1915 is the only one available at the time of writing, making this issue an important and welcome one. The earlier of Dohnányi’s violin concertos shares with his First Symphony an unashamed Romanticism which betrays the fully-assimilated influences of Brahms, Wagner, Strauss and even Mendelssohn. In fact, the First Violin Concerto adopts a four-movement structure as chosen by Brahms for his Second Piano Concerto. Dohnányi’s work brings to mind a kind of four-movement latter-day Brahms’ Violin Concerto. After a truly symphonic Molto moderato first movement, a lush, lyrical – and very Brahmsian – slow movement and a scherzo, the top-heavy last movement can be a bit heavy going. For me, it is too long and rambling. I could have done without the development of the violin’s first-movement opening cadenza which opens the finale. It is a full three minutes before the movement gets underway properly with a theme which reminded me more than a little of the big main theme from the finale of Brahms’ First Symphony. This theme is treated to some imaginative variations before a very traditional cadenza, coda and obligatory upbeat ending.
While the first concerto was written in his native Hungary, the second comes from a much later period when Dohnányi had finally settled in the western United States after several years of moving around. It was the establishment of the communist régime after the Second World War which finally drove Dohnányi away from his homeland for good. The style is less overtly Romantic, very slightly edgier and more obviously ‘Hungarian’. It is also more concise. The concerto gets underway without any preamble and has a style now much more aligned with Erich Korngold and Miklós Rózsa (with perhaps the slightest hint of Prokofiev) than the first concerto’s Brahmsian colours. The order of the two inner movements is reversed here, with the slow third movement providing the musical and emotional heart of the piece. Unlike the somewhat rambling final movement of the first concerto, that of the second is a much more succinct six minutes and feels all the more satisfactorily for it.
This CD introduces a new name to me – the soloist Michael Ludwig. He seems to be quite a find. His sound isn’t the largest or most robust but his playing is musicianly and very secure. He is superbly accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by one of the leading female conductors, the American JoAnn Falletta. The warm and spacious sound of Glasgow’s Henry Wood Hall will be well known to Naxos collectors and the recording is as good as one could wish, making this disc an invaluable one for lovers of Romantic and post-Romantic violin concertos.
Derek Warby

see also reviews by Kevin Sutton and William Kreindler


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