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Ernő DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Ruralia Hungarica Op.32a (1923) [29:59]
Humoresken in Form einer Suite Op.17 (1907) [26:34]
Pastorale on a Hungarian Christmas Song (No Op.) [6:37]
Valentina Tóth (piano)
rec. 2018, Westvest Church, Schiedam, The Netherlands

Ernő Dohnányi’s conservative compositional style has kept his name at a lower profile to fellow Hungarians such as Bartók and Kodály, and pianist Valentina Tóth tells us that she only encountered his piano works relatively recently. “Romantic, virtuoso, and incredibly well written for the instrument”, the Ruralia Hungarica is full of melodies that Hungarian natives should recognise. Dohnányi referred to Bartók and Kodály’s collection of folk melodies collected in the field when putting together this seven-movement suite, and these tunes are given a variety of adaptations, the composer turning them into gentle nocturne-like pieces or applying lively Hungarian dance rhythms. The result is a great mixture of Hungarian character and romantic pianistic fireworks played with panache and élan by Ms Tóth.

Ruralia Hungarica has appeared in numerous guises, including orchestral and chamber music versions with violin or cello. Of the piano version, alternative recordings include extracts played by the composer (review), and Martin Roscoe’s recording on the Hyperion label (review), part of a complete Dohnányi edition, has to be worth a listen though I don’t have a copy for comparison.

The set of Humoresken was written a decade and a half earlier, and have little or no folk-music association. Brahms is cited as an influence, and characteristics in the writing and harmonic colours indeed bring the elder master frequently to mind. Earlier musical forms are referred to, such as a fierce Toccata and an initially lyrical Pavane, and while the humoresque title indeed indicates a light feel to this suite there are plenty of darker minor-key contrasts. Dohnányi cleverly weaves a tribute to Brahms into the variations of the Pavane, quoting the tune Gaudeamus Igitur used in the Academic Festival Overture, and the final Introduction and Fugue is excellent.

The final Pastorale on a Hungarian Christmas Song uses a carol ‘The angel from heaven’, building from a gentle opening through some intriguing harmonic progressions into something quite impassioned, before returning to the tranquillity of the beginning.

Well recorded and performed with skill and superb musicianship, this is an attractive disc of some less frequently heard piano repertoire from a great but under-appreciated 20th century Hungarian.

Dominy Clements

Previous review: Jim Westhead

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