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Ernst von DOHNANYI (1877-1960)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor op. 5 (1897-99) [43:34]
Piano Concerto No. 2 in B minor op. 42 (1946-47) [28:49]
Howard Shelley (piano)
BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
rec. Studio 7, BBC Broadcasting House, Manchester, 12-14 September 2001 (1); 6-7 January 2004 (2). DDD
CHANDOS CHAN10599X [72:25] 

Experience Classicsonline

Dohnanyi was a determined and unwavering late-romantic and Chandos have done his orchestral music proud where others walked by on the other side of the street. Neither of these concertos are completely unknown to older collectors. They will recall a Pye LP of the First Concerto and an EMI LP of the Second Concerto.

The First Piano Concerto is a work in three movements. It has the mien of the Brahms Second Concerto but with a strong infusion of Rachmaninov DNA - from the era of his Second Symphony. Another parallel of sorts is the Stanford Second Piano Concerto. The Andante is shorter than its flanking companion movements - there are only three. It is rather Brucknerian although the strenuously high romantic Grieg-like manner is also much in evidence. 

The work was first recorded in 1972 on a Pye LP (TPLS 13052) and was further licensed in the USA on Genesis LP 1022. The soloist was Bálint Vázsonyi who studied with the composer in Tallahassee in 1958; he was Dohnanyi’s last pupil. The orchestra was the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by John Pritchard. That LP has never been reissued on CD. In more recent times there have been recordings by László Baranyay (1994) and on Hyperion (1993) coupled exactly as above on Hyperion CDA 66684 by Martin Roscoe with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Fedor Glushchenko. 

The Second Piano Concerto is more overtly in the shadow of Rachmaninov with some ripely projected horns and trumpets. These return, in considerable magnificence, at the end over and defiant Lisztian fireworks and scurrying passagework from the piano. The piano writing also finds time for intimacy and there are some moments that run perilously close to Delius. In the finale there are patent references to Rachmaninov's Third Piano Concerto and even some Rimsky-Korsakov. It’s all rather wonderful stuff. You can revel in the luxury sound furnished by the Chandos team. 

The Second Concerto was recorded with the composer as soloist in 1956 with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and Sir Adrian Boult. It was released in the USA on Angel 35538. It was reissued on a Praga CD in 2008 with two other vintage recordings including the Starker version of the Concertstück. The Hungaroton CD made by László Baranyay and the Budapest Symphony Orchestra with György Győriványi-Ráth (HCD 31555 (1994)) is similarly coupled.

I would like to hear the Hungaroton but have never seen it listed. The Hyperion is the only real competition and it’s a while since I have heard it. My impression though is that the Chandos has the slight edge in relation to the sound quality and Sdhelley is au fait with the style having at one time recorded a complete CD of Dohnanyi’s solo piano music.

The truly helpful notes are by Matthew Rye.

Dohnanyi made an international name for himself as soloist and as composer. His early mentor was Eugen d'Albert - himself no mean perpetrator of piano concertos - who no doubt influenced his far from tangily Hungarian idiom. In its place we get Germanic Lisztian character leavened with a manner often coasting close to or bumping into Rachmaninov. This did him no favours with the Hungarian authorities after WW2. There he was reviled despite his two sons having been executed for their involvement in the Stauffenburg plot to kill Hitler. One of them was the father of the conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. When Ernst (or Ernö) died it was in the USA in Tallahassee, Florida. He was recording to the end in New York aware of his romantic straggler status but sublimely undistracted.

Rob Barnett







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