Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877–1960)
Symphonic Minutes op.36 (1933) [14:58]
Variations on a Nursery Song op.25 (1914) [24:24]
Suite in F sharp minor op.19 (1908/1909) [30:18]
Eldar Nebolsin (piano)
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, NY 31 October–2 November 2008 (Symphonic Minutes and Suite); 6-7 February 2009 (Variations). DDD.
NAXOS 8.572303 [69:39]

The Symphonic Minutes (not Symphonic Miniatures, which is something entirely different) is a delightful five movement suite of very attractive music which still gets the occasional airing in public. In the days of 78s it was recorded by both Henry Wood and Oswald Kabasta – neither recording currently available – and both performances were sheerly delightful and full of fun and colour. Falletta is a conductor for whom I have a lot of time and I have enjoyed the many broadcasts of the Buffalo Orchestra, under her directorship, on WNED Buffalo. She has been the principal conductor in Buffalo for 11 years, and she has done some fine work with them – I especially remember a superb Rachmaninov 3rd Symphony a few years ago. This is a fine performance of the Symphonic Minutes, idiomatic and sensitive, with great care being taken over the interpretation. There is a real Hungarian feel to the two slow movements – the variations of the slow movement being especially soulful. There is also no lack of playfulness and, indeed, boisterousness in the three fast movements. The finale moto perpetuo will leave you breathless. This work is a riot of ideas and it’s colourful and entertaining. What’s best here is that Falletta displays a light touch and doesn’t try to make something big out of the music – she allows it to speak for itself.

The Suite is a big work insofar as it plays for half an hour, but its content is not serious. As with so much of Dohnanyi’s music, it’s very attractive and immediately appealing. Perhaps Falletta isn’t quite at home here as she is in the Minutes but it’s still a very good performance, full of good humour and the interpretation is intelligent and understanding.

The work on this disk which everyone will know is the Variations on a Nursery Song, subtitled For the enjoyment of humorous people and for the annoyance of others. I can relate to that. This is a very good performance, both Nebolsin and Falletta giving very distinguished performances, with the variations very well characterised, and Dohnanyi’s poking fun at various composers is well captured. Two little niggles: the piano is a bit too far forward and occasionally obscures some delightfully comic moments of orchestration, and the performers make slight pauses between some of the variations instead of going straight on, and this slightly disrupts the flow of the music. These, however, are small points.

It would be unfair of me not to mention that good as Nebolsin is he faces tough competition from two pianists – the great, and much missed, Julius Katchen and the composer himself. Both pianists recorded the work twice. Dohnanyi’s 1931 recording, with the LSO under Lawrence Collingwood is coupled with Mozart’s G major Concerto, K 453 with Dohnányi playing and conducting the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra (a 1928 recording), two transcriptions, for solo piano, of Strauss Waltzes and the fourth movement of the Ruralia hungarica Suite with the LSO conducted by the composer (all 1931 recordings) (Pearl GEM 018). His later recording is coupled with the Piano Concerto No. 2, both with the Royal Philharmonic, under Boult, and the Konzertstück, op. 12, played by Janos Starker with the Philharmonia under Walter Susskind (Praga 250 231).

Julius Katchen’s 1954 mono recording is coupled with Rachmaninov’s Paganini Rhapsody – both with the LPO under Boult – and his 1951 recording of the Rachmaninov 2nd Concerto with the New Symphony Orchestra under Anatole Fistoulari (Dutton CDLXT 2504). His 1959 stereo remake is again coupled with the Paganini Rhgapsody (also a stereo remake) – again both with the LPO under Boult – and his 1958 recording of the 2nd Concerto with Solti and the LSO (Decca 448 604). These are great interpretations and cannot be missed, and. From a musical point of view, these four recordings are preferable to the one under discussion here.

However, if it’s an introduction to Dohnanyi’s music, or if cost is important to you, then this Naxos issue is very good and it will give much pleasure. At the price you cannot complain.

Bob Briggs

Will give much pleasure… see Full Review