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Ernst von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960) Suite in F sharp minor, The Veil of Pierrette, Variations on a Nursery Theme Howard Shelley (piano); BBC Philharmonic conducted by Matthias Bamert CHANDOS CHAN 9733 [69:52]



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Dohnányi left only forty three opus numbers when he died at age 83. And he is really only remembered for his Nursery Theme Variations and the Wedding Waltz. He was, in fact, a greatly respected concert pianist (regarded, because of his impressive virtuosity, as the successor to Liszt), conductor and teacher.

The Veil of Pierrette (1908-09) is known only for its last movement. This, the Wedding Waltz, is music that everybody recognises as a light music favourite; the kind that one knows well, but never knows the title. The three preceding movements are receiving their premiere recording on this album and together they comprise a charming suite. The work opens with 'Pierrot's Love-lament', a sad little piece with sighing, lamenting lower strings - poor Pierrot is quite inconsolable in his grief although he shows brief flashes of anger and resentment at his predicament. The following movements are more joyful. The waltz-rondo is a charming parody of a Strauss waltz, while the Merry Funeral March a real contradiction, is a witty confection - perhaps the Commedia Dell'arte characters were getting up to their usual mischief? But the Wedding Waltz is all headlong gaiety - and, ah that tune!

The Suite in f sharp minor again shows off Dohnányi's gift for parody. The opening movement is a sparkling set of variations (a favourite musical form for the composer). The theme is rather Dvorak-like and the variations sunny and melodic. The woodwinds are given a lot of joyous material, they bubble and skip merrily away and often laugh at the pomposity of the heavier brass. There are some warm-hearted string tunes too. The second movement is a strong scherzo with a rousing central peroration. The third Romance: Andante poco moto movement is an exotic mix of styles a sort of Arabian Nights atmosphere - sensuous and languorous - rubs shoulders with more urgent Magyar rhythms and inflections. The Rondo finale begins sounding like Tchaikovsky and ends like Brahms. The music sparkles, flutters and flirts, rushing along headlong until the tempo relaxes for beauty and romance.

I will admit that Dohnányi's great musical send-up, his NurseryVariations has always been a favourite of mine. Who could resist the piano's coy tongue-in-cheek announcement of the 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star' theme after such a long, inflated, self-important peroration? Who could resist the lovely graceful, lilting waltzes that are Variations 3 and 7, so beguilingly shaped by Bamert, or the charm of the music box Variation. Then there is that too haunting rather nostalgic Alla Marcia with its echoing horns not to mention the grotesqueries of the Presto Variation 9 sounding like skeletons dancing and the grave dignity of the great Passacaglia Variation 10 with its wonderful noble melody full of Rachmaninov-like melancholic intensity. Although this performance cannot quite dispel the memory of the celebrated 1960 recording made by Julius Katchen and the LPO conducted by Sir Adrian Boult, it is nevertheless a very fine reading with Howard Shelley entering into the spirit of this satire with sensitivity and gusto.


Ian Lace


Ian Lace

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