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Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Symphony No.1 in D minor, Op.9 [54.49]
Symphonic Minutes, Op.36 (1933) [14.45]
Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz/Roberto Paternostro
rec. 2019, Philharmonie, Ludwigshafen, Germany
CAPRICCIO C5386 [69.34]

This is a worthwhile CD, enjoyable and a useful introduction to, or reminder of, the talents of Ernst von Dohnányi. He is one of those composers whose work tends to remain somewhere in the corner of recalled musical history – someone known as a talented, enjoyable figure, but one who presses at the edges of no boundaries and changes little in the development of the art. One might wish it were otherwise, but it would be a pity to let such a thought mar the enjoyment of his relatively limited output (his work as a performer filled the bulk of his creative time).

His Symphony No. 1 is a young man’s work, from early in his career. Notes accompanying the recording give the date of its composition as 1901, while the track listing attributes it to 1900, in two places, in the booklet and on the cover of the CD. 1901 seems correct, but the notes also say, elsewhere, in both German and English that ‘The 86-year-old (sic.) died in 1960 while making records in New York’! The Symphony shows hints of earlier composers, but with strong Hungarian influences. There is an evident mastery of orchestral sound, with some delicious writing for cor anglais in the first movement and a delight in the interplay of woodwinds and strings. Innovatory is the intermezzo (andante poco moto), an additional movement between a traditionally placed Scherzo and Finale. This little (three-minute) movement is light and delightful – the one that stayed longest in my memory, but it seems unbalanced against the symphony as a whole, with its long first, second and last movement. Dohnányi gives us overall a charming landscape, with many delights on our journey through it, but I am less convinced that the symphony works as a whole, certainly at such length.

Perhaps Dohnányi was more suited to shorter forms. The Symphonic Minutes from 1933 are charmers – five movements inspired by dance have a lively elegance and joie-de-vivre. They plumb no great emotional depths – a touch of whimsy here, a little excitement there – but are none the worse for that.

Recording quality is very good, and performances are committed and if occasionally imprecise in detail. A worthy disc, if not an essential one. Some may prefer Matthias Bamert’s thoughtful 1998 recording (Chandos CHAN9647), coupled with American Rhapsody, which is a touch more urgent across all movements, except the Intermezzo; for others, choice may depend on the coupling.

Michael Wilkinson

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