Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Passacaglia, Op.6 (1899-1900) [13:10]
Four Rhapsodies, Op.11 (1902-03) [29:40]
Three Pieces, Op.44 (1951) [9:11]
Daniel Röhm (piano)
rec. November 2007 (Rhapsodies) and November-December 2010, SWR Stuttgart, Kammerstudio
CPO 777 970-2 [52:07]

Dohnányi’s Passacaglia, written when he was in his early twenties, is not as often performed as it should be. Its lyric profile is counterbalanced by dynamic outbursts of virtuoso energy that foreground its occasionally adamantine vehemence, It’s certainly a compelling work for so young a man, revealing – as so often – the influence of Brahms but also revealing very personal elements as well. It’s played here with real power and control by Daniel Röhm who gets right inside the lexicon.

The composer recorded two of his Op.44 set of Three Pieces in 1956, very late in his active professional life (see APR 7038) and only four years before his death. The concluding Perpetuum mobile, a presto of fiendish difficulty would have taxed his fingers at the age of 79, or even 20 years earlier, so he left it alone. Compared with the composer’s own capricious and playfully unstable pianism, Röhm sounds just a little brusque in the opening Burletta, though there’s no doubting his technical proficiency. Again the composer’s less metrical, less predictable way with the Nocturne proves less emphatic and more whimsical even, and this builds a greater sense of the music’s particular character. A touch hard-toned, Röhm uses quite a bit of pedal but his insistence ultimately lacks for charm. As for that tricky perpetuum mobile, Röhm certainly drives through it with technique to spare.

Eckhardt van den Hoogen’s extensive, wordy and detailed notes make the point that he believes that the Four Rhapsodies function essentially as a sonata – but we know from other sources that this is how Dohnányi performed it connecting it fluidly into a natural four-movement structure moving from an Allegro non troppo to a concluding Andante lugubre via a slow movement with capricious elements and a scherzo – except that the composer labelled it merely Vivace. Röhm seems more at home in this work, taking a more measured view of the second movement than the composer himself in his 1960 Everest LP reading when he pushed the tempo, and even though the composer’s technique is now hopelessly inadequate there is still something in his taut drama, vitiated somewhat as it is by a very dry acoustic, that grabs the ear. Nevertheless, Röhm is excellent in the Vivace and brings out the tolling motifs in the finale with great sensitivity. Here its romantic burgeoning surely hearkens back to Liszt’s Sonata, Röhm ending the work in a blaze of glory.

Less than wholly convinced by Röhm’s Three Singular Pieces, Op.44, I was won over by both the Passacaglia and the Rhapsodies. The performances have been a long time on the shelf and their appearance now offers a valuable slice of the repertoire.

Jonathan Woolf

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