Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960) Orchestral Works
James Ehnes (violin); Howard Shelley (piano); Clifford Lantaff (harp)
BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
rec. Studio 7, New Broadcasting House, Manchester, 21-22 September 1995 (CD 4), 19-20 November 1997 (CD 2), 22-23 October 1998 (CD 3), 12-14 September 2001 (CD 1), 6-7 January 2004 (CD 5) CHANDOS CHAN10906(5)X [5 CDs: 336:26]
MusicWeb International has been running since the mid-1990s. As a music delivery medium the CD has been commercially active since 1983 so that's a legacy of some fifteen years to be caught up with. This reissue set from Chandos provides a chance to cover five CDs from 1995-2003. A number of them we have appraised: the later ones. Others have been examined when reissued as single Chandos discs. These include the two piano concertos on one 2010 disc (review) and CD 3 which replicates Chandos CHAN 9733 (review
~ review). I have drawn on my own earlier reviews where possible. Chandos are good at this sort of thing; not that they are enthusiastic reissuers. Even so there has been a steady flow of boxed sets of this ilk each offering a tasty bargain to those who don't already have the original CDs. This includes Arnold Symphonies, their easily overlooked Strauss Jack Rothstein discs from the 1980s, Halvorsen orchestral works, York Bowen-Celis piano CDs (CHAN 10774(4)X), Gliere orchestral collection, Bridge-Hickox cycle and RVW film music. You may be bracing yourself for a slimmed-down version of the original Dohnányi discs. Relax. Each disc comes in a card sleeve that reproduces the original cover. Matthew Rye's original and largely praiseworthy notes are there in the booklet without cuts. So far as the documentation is concerned it's a shame that full details of premieres were not given; then again they were absent from the original discs as well. All five discs and the booklet are accommodated in an elegant and simple stiff-card wallet. As for the commercial aspect, the five CDs can be had for £28.50 compared with between £12 and £15 for the individual premium-price Chandos discs.
Until Chandos began this series with the BBC Phil and Matthias Bamert, for a while one of their 'house' conductors (Parry (CHAN9120(3) and Martin), there was comparatively little Dohnányi to be had on commercial recordings. Chandos changed all that.
The Ruralia hungarica 'suite' is among Dohnányi's most popular pieces both for solo piano and - as here - in the composer's orchestration. It is dedicated "To My Dear Mother". The first and third movements are as warmly coaxed as the summer celebratory pieces by Suk and Schoeck. The long fourth has a delicious tension which moves between heat-haze and shade to lushly romantic episodes and a Dvořákian outdoor manner. The second has a Grainger-like energy and this is pursued further in the shivering rapidity of the final Molto vivace - Vivo.
The long First Piano Concerto is a work in three movements. Written amid the embers of the nineteenth century it has the mien of the Brahms Second Piano Concerto but with a strong infusion of Rachmaninov DNA. Another parallel that can be drawn is with the now increasingly recorded 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 First Concerto was initially recorded in 1972 and issued on a Pye LP (TPLS 13052). This 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 Dohnányi’s last pupil. The orchestra was the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by John Pritchard. That LP has never been reissued on commercial CD. In more recent times there have been recordings of the Concerto by László Baranyay (1994) and on Hyperion (1993) with the Second Concerto on Hyperion CDA 66684. There the pianist is Martin Roscoe with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Fedor Glushchenko.
The First Symphony 'for large orchestra' runs just shy of 54 minutes. It is in five movements with three meaty 'paragraphs' encasing a 5-minute Scherzo and 3½- minute Intermezzo. The sound of this big-hearted symphony is often Brahmsian and ends in loudly proclaimed Brucknerian majesty. The Scherzo clinks and glints after an imposing introduction. As a companion to the Scherzo we have a small gem of an Intermezzo. This work has been recorded before on Telarc CD80511 by the LPO conducted by that Indiana Jones of the rarer reaches of the repertoire, Leon Botstein. I have not heard the Telarc version but it is about the same duration as the Bamert.
The American Rhapsody has been recorded before by ASV. That disc was welcomed at the time. There is another recording from CPO, coupled with the First Violin Concerto in which the soloist was Ulf Wallin. The Rhapsody is another fun piece out of the same colouring book as the Symphonic Minutes but with an infusion of traditional tunes to keep American audiences engaged; after all, Dohnányi was the composer of the witty Nursery Theme Variations. That it is fun is no obstacle to some heart-warming writing. Otherwise it has the bearing of the Stanford Irish Rhapsodies but written forty years later. It may be a bit cheesy but only momentarily. By way of any compensation you may feel you are owed you can add this work to your list of pieces that make use of Roger de Coverley.
The Suite in F sharp minor is music of sheer delight and the BBCPO and Bamert must take a deep bow here as elsewhere in this set. It mixes the playful Brahms (St Anthony Variations and Academic Festival) with velour work for the wind instruments. The drama of Brahms also gets a look-in, as does the innocent charm of Nutcracker. In the gambolling Scherzo listen to the mellifluous flute at 6.13 and the pre-echoes of Franz Schmidt's Hussar Song Variations. In III a sinuous slave-girl dance winds exotically and the final Rondo is a Brahmsian helter-skelter scurry.
The well-known Nursery Variations are witty and mercurial. The variations take in flickering and floating waltzes, a boozy bassoon and piano duet (9) and a Viennese Sugar Plum Fairy arranged for miniature hurdy-gurdy; not that there's not torment, grandeur and amusement as well. The moods melt and sweep along and Howard Shelley is as alert as we would expect from such a masterly player whose artistry has never been restricted to the box-office standards.
In the Veil of Pierrette Suite gloom and charm bruise shoulders. Affluent ballroom scenes rub along with a distinctly Mahlerian funeral march. The young Sibelius is also there - not such a strange thing bearing in mind that a number of Sibelius's early triumphs were in Germany. The Wedding Waltz finale's grand string writing may well have been influenced by Elgar's Introduction and Allegro of four years previously. Ultimately though, this is just a scene-setter for an over-the-top luxury waltz - all done with breathless élan.
The Symphonic Minutes is brilliantly flighty and superbly crafted. It is in five contrasted balletic movements. Richard Strauss is cited as an influence but Dohnányi's hand is lighter and gravity-defying. It reminds me more of Bantock in his Pierrot of the Minute and Russian Suite. You can see why the piece was favoured by Henry Wood who recorded it (Beulah). More recently it has been championed on disc by Mester, Vasary and Falletta (Naxos). Testament even has four movements as conducted by the composer in 1936.
The Second Symphony is an expansive fifty-minute four-movement piece written during a period which began during the Nazi occupation of Hungary and ended four years short of the composer's death in Florida. It's a late-late-romantic piece, imaginative, old-fashioned. The orchestration is lush and Straussian. If the sleight-of-hand scherzo (III) is anything to go by it is not unremittingly imposing. One can group it loosely with the Korngold Symphony (1950) or the Rudolph Gott Symphony (1937) by Arthur Farwell. These are works born out of their time. The Dohnányi was premiered in the original version on 23 November 1948 in London and in its revision in Minneapolis on 15 March 1957. It's a work I was introduced to courtesy of a BBC broadcast by the County of Kent Youth Orchestra conducted by Bela de Csillery (1915-96) in the early 1980s. A tough proposition for any youth orchestra it certainly won me around. You now have an alternative means for hearing the Dohnányi Second Symphony (Naxos) although that reading is some five minutes longer than Bamert's version. I should add that Chandos present this symphony in 12 tracks - a welcome decision with nine of those tracks allocated to the theme and variations finale.
The Second Violin Concerto is an idyllic work full of character and inventive craft. You can think of its sweet ways as comparable with the Glazunov concerto. Matthew Rye mentions it in the same breath as the concertos by Korngold and Barber; quite right too. It was written in Tallahassee in 1949-50. James Ehnes - in 2004 a newish name on the scene - is a de luxe choice and delivers both blitzing fantasy and delightful calorific values. Its fourth and last movement ends with a clever flourish for the solo instrument. If you would like to add the Dohnányi First Violin Concerto to your home listening armoury then you have choices: it's on Naxos with the Second or with the American Rhapsody on CPO.
The single-movement, three-section Harp Concertino is another work of those late Florida years. In it Matthew Rye hears nostalgia for the composer's native Hungary. True, there is a cimbalom sound at various points but there is also elfin fly-away exhilaration and even ecstatic lyricism. In the final pages Dohnányi seems to have orchestrated an untroubled extended sunset. The music glows amicably but does not dazzle. The closing pages do sound like an Ave atque vale.
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 the piano's defiant Lisztian fireworks and scurrying passagework. The 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 and once again you revel in Chandos's luxury sound. 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. This was reissued on a Praga CD in 2008 with two other vintage recordings, including the Starker version of the Concertstück.
While much of Dohnányi's orchestral catalogue has been recorded and there is nothing comparable with this set, there are still quite a few unrecorded pieces: two comic operas: Tante Simona - in one act (1912) and The Tenor - in three acts (1927). Add to these The Tower of the Voivod - a romantic opera in three acts (1922), choral-orchestral works include the Szeged Mass for twelve voices, orchestra and organ (1930), Cantus vitae, a Symphonic Cantata (1941) and a Stabat mater (1953). Neglected orchestral nooks and crannies include an unpublished and unnumbered Symphony in F major (1896) and a Festival Overture (1923). The latter was commissioned with Bartók's Dance Suite and Kodaly's stunning Psalmus Hungaricus for the fiftieth anniversary of the unification of Buda and Pest. Gilder lists a symphony No. 3 in E Major.
No one offers competition for this set. Of course you can now build a Dohnányi collection from individual discs but the performance and production values in the case of this attractively priced set will have you wondering why you took the trouble. The only serious demerit is the absence of the First Violin Concerto. Chandos do these things so well so I hope that they will take the hint and next produce similar boxes of the Rozhdestvensky/Enescu symphonies and Neeme Järvi's American Series, the one he made in Detroit.
Contents CD 1 [68:23] Ruralia hungarica, Op.32b (1924) [24:56]
Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op.5 (1897-98) [43:27] CD 2 [67:18]
Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.9 (1900-01) [53:32] American Rhapsody, Op.47 (1953) [13:31] CD 3 [69:58]
Suite in F sharp minor, Op.19 (1908-09) [28:39] Variations on a Nursery Theme for piano and orchestra, Op.25 (1914) [24:31]
Suite from The Veil of Pierrette, Op.18 (1908-09) [16:23] CD 4 [64:43] Symphonic Minutes, Op.36 (1933) [14:41]
Symphony No.2 in E major, Op.40 (1943-44, rev. 1953-56) [49:48] CD 5 [76:04]
Violin Concerto No.2 in C minor, Op.43 (1949-50) [31:08]
Concertino for Harp and Chamber Orchestra, Op.45 (1952) [15:43]
Piano Concerto No.2 in B minor, Op.42 (1946-47) [28:49]