Ernő DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Piano Quintet No. 1 in C minor, Op. 1 (1895) [29:15]
Piano Sextet in C major, Op. 37 (1935) [29:43] Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1918) [15.56]
András Schiff (piano); Kálmán Berkes (clarinet), Radovan Vlatković (horn)
Takács Quartet; Musikverein Quartet (Kodály)
rec. 1977/78, Sofiensaal (Kodály); 1987, Schubert Saal, Konzerthaus (Dohnányi), Vienna DECCA ELOQUENCE 480 7406 [75.10]
This Decca album of previously released material brings together works by Dohnányi and Kodály. Evidently this is the first time that this recording of Kodály’s Second Quartet has been issued on CD.
Close contemporaries, the Hungarian Dohnányi and Kodály both studied and taught at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. Kodály spent most of his life settled in Budapest although he did study for a while in Paris with Charles Widor where he discovered the music of Debussy. Dohnányi found fame early in his career as a pianist but, accused of German collaboration, his reputation suffered and never really recovered. In 1944 he fled German-occupied Budapest from the advancing Red Army, moving around Europe and then Argentina before finally emigrating to the United States. He finally gained US citizenship in 1955.
Dohnányi’s Quintet No. 1, a product of his time as a teenage student at the Budapest Academy, was admired by no less a figure than Brahms. András Schiff is joined in this recording by the Takács Quartet for what is a dedicated and accomplished performance. Of the rival recordings I plump for the 1995 account (Hyperion) from the Schubert Ensemble of London for its musicality and strong unity. Forty years later Dohnányi’s Sextet, Op. 37 was written during a period of illness that gave him the necessary time from his directorship of the Budapest Academy. For the Sextet András Schiff is joined by Gabor Takács-Nagy, Gabor Ormai and András Fejér from the Takács Quartet with clarinetist Kalman Berkes and horn Radovan Vlatkovic providing suitably committed playing and a deep sense of concentration. In the Sextet the recording I admire most of all for playing of high integrity and engagement is the 2002 account from Spectrum Concerts Berlin on Naxos.
Kodály’s String Quartet No. 2 comes from 1918, written some eight years before the Háry János suite, which is his best known composition. Using contemporary language the influences of Debussy and Magyar folk themes are evident. The Quartet was a success and was welcomed into the chamber music repertory proving competition for Bartók’s Second Quartet. This exceptionally strong 1977/78 Sofiensaal account from the Musikverein Quartet has polish and freshness and is played with no shortage of vitality. The playing of the second movement Andante is remarkable. Providing strong competition for outstanding advocacy is the 1986 Salzburg Mozarteum recording for the impeccable artistry of the Hagen Quartet on Deutsche Grammophon and the 1979 account with its strong spontaneous feel from the Melos Quartet; also on DG.
Certainly these versions on Decca Eloquence can stand alongside the fiercest competition. There is some minor degree of fluctuation of balance in the sound of the Dohnányi works especially in the Sextet with its mix of piano, strings, reed and brass which is notoriously difficult anyway. Originally a vinyl analogue release there are no problems whatsoever with the sound quality of the Kodály.
In summary I doubt that any purchaser will be anything but delighted with the quality of these Vienna performances.