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Erno DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Sextet in C, Op 37 [29:09]
Krzysztof PENDERECKI (1933-)
Sextet [29:43]
Ensemble Kheops
rec. 5-6 June, 2010 (Dohnányi), 29-30 December 2010 (Penderecki), Salle philharmonique, Liège, Belgium
FUGA LIBERA FUG585 [58:52]

Experience Classicsonline

In hindsight it’s a minor miracle that there are not one but two great masterpieces for the combination of clarinet, French horn, violin, viola, cello, and piano. Erno Dohnányi’s is big-hearted, romantic, and even very witty, the spirit of Brahms hovering over the first two movements and, perhaps, Viennese comic operetta over the last two. Krzysztof Penderecki’s sextet is temperamentally the exact opposite: savagely virtuosic at first, with elements of rural dance, it gives way to a nobly sad larghetto lament which grows in intensity and poetry over its dying moments.

The Dohnányi dates from 1934, when, to recover from an illness in Hungary, the composer set about writing a cheery sextet which sets out with optimism, confidence, and a harmonic tradition more suited to the 1890s. Never mind: the first movement, with its evocations of Brahms and its glorious main tune delivered in sun-lit French horn solos, leads to a short adagio of subdued lyrical fervor. The lively scherzo and flat-out hilarious finale are the clinchers, though, especially the last movement, which is occasionally punctuated by outbursts of skewered Straussian waltzes and polkas. This is the type of music that makes for love at first listen, as it did for me when I first heard it.

The Penderecki is a tougher nut to crack, but a classic work nonetheless. It dates from 1999, when it was premiered by the all-star cast of Dmitri Alexeev, Julian Rachlin, Yuri Bashmet, Mstislav Rostropovich, Paul Meyer, and Radovan Vlatkovic. The first movement has a symmetrical form which reveals itself slowly; the opening figure returns as a salve at the end and the middle contains some facing episodes of excited folk-stamping. The beginning of the work is especially gratifying: listen to the way Penderecki introduces each instrument to the mix. It’s matched only by the ending of the emotionally wide-ranging slow - and not always slow at that - movement, with its feeling of warily settling in for a mournful vigil.

The all-star line-up which premiered the Penderecki work never recorded it, but there is a Naxos performance of considerable proficiency, where I first heard the piece. That’s a full two minutes slower than this one, all of the extra time coming in an especially nocturnal second movement. It’s a particularly appealing disc if you want more Penderecki chamber music (clarinet quartet and works for solo clarinet and cello, specifically) but I think it’s fair to say that both performances give this masterwork full advocacy, and indeed the work is important enough to merit still more appearances on CD. The Ensemble Kheops certainly do not sound rushed in the moving five minutes which close the work.

Having got around to mentioning the Ensemble Kheops: they’re fantastic. There’s really impassioned playing here from everybody, including the clear and burnished clarinet of Ronald Van Spaendonck (familiar from his superb Poulenc recordings with Alexandre Tharaud), the all-important cello of Marie Hallynck in the Penderecki, and Muhiddin Dürrüoglu’s steady hand at the piano. Hervé Joulain’s horn has a beautiful rustic glow in the third movement of the Dohnányi but elsewhere in the piece isn’t quite as bright as Ron Schaaper’s on Naxos. Still, the Kheops have a lively sound and excellent rapport.

There’s tremendous value added in the excellent booklet notes to the disc and also, I think, in the adventurous and stimulating coupling of these two works. The Ensemble Kheops also have a refreshing attitude toward group photographs. There are at least three people on the cover I’d shy from in a dark alley, but inside the booklet, one of those three, violinist Graf Mourja, is shown - I am not making this up - attempting to eat the end of his violin.

Great sound, great under-exposed music, an obviously excellent and good-humoured ensemble: this one is a keeper.

Brian Reinhart


































































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