This clever compilation manages to do what collectors have long
wanted, which is to corral Dohnányi’s pre-war orchestral recordings
in a handy and excellently engineered disc. It begins and ends
with the two big works, in which the composer is executant (in
his own Variations) and pianist and conductor, in Mozart’s G
major concerto. I was wondering when someone would come up with
a good transfer of the last, ever since the BBC unleashed its
cack-handed version – so subterranean you could barely hear
a thing [BBC CD757 released in 1990 and now best forgotten].
Fortunately the job has been entrusted to Mark Obert-Thorn,
and I should note that his transfers on this label are not XR
ones, in case there should be some confusion.
Obert-Thorn, as is his wont, maintains a fine balance between
a full frequency response and the retention of some surface
noise. Here, unlike that BBC disaster, we can catch the full
string tone – not so many fiddles from the sound of it, and
some with Hubay-derived tonal production, espousing quick portamenti
and a generous sense of phrasing. We also have the added interest
of hearing Dohnányi’s own very acceptable cadenzas. This is
the concerto with the ‘Papageno’ finale but also, perhaps more
presciently, the almost proto-Wagnerian slow movement which
is played here with due gravity. This set stayed in the Columbia
catalogue in the UK until 1940. Incidentally the company was
flat out at the time recording a range of artists, and checking
the matrix details, here are the adjacent recording undertakings
– and I mean within the space of a few days - either side of
this June 1928 recording; Godowsky recording Chopin Nocturnes,
Stravinsky recording Petrouchka, the complete Bayreuth Tristan
under Elmendorff, the Capet Quartet recording Beethoven’s Op.74,
and Bruno Walter conducting the Mozart Festival Orchestra in
Paris in Schumann’s Fourth Symphony. Not a bad few days’ recording
for the company. And the Léner Quartet, compatriots of the Budapest
Philharmonic Orchestra and Ernst von Dohnányi, were to be very
much present in Columbia’s London recording studios.
The sequence of orchestral items includes the same piece played
twice for different companies; the Hungarian March from The
Damnation of Faust. It was first recorded for Columbia and
then re-recorded for HMV two days later. I’m not sure about
the contractual implications for the Budapest Philharmonic but
they were clearly open to offers. Both discs were released,
but the Columbia was limited by a small studio, whereas the
HMV was recorded in Queen’s Hall and is immeasurably better.
Liszt’s First Hungarian Rhapsody is graced by excellent wind
playing, and a spruce, knowing interpretation results. We also
hear a performance of Egressy’s Szózat – a proud, rather
ceremonial piece - and Dohnányi’s Hiszekegy, as well
as two pieces from Ruralia Hungarica, one with his Budapest
orchestra and the other with the LSO, a filler for their recording
– Lawrence Collingwood conducting – of the Variations on
a Nursery Tune. I’ve always loved this performance and despite
the sound quality, preferred it to the later re-make with Boult.
It’s full of fun and wit and charm. Incidentally a couple of
days after recording it, the composer went into the HMV studios
and recorded some solo pieces – as indeed he had back in 1929.
Full marks to restorer and label for this superior offering.