Some very likeable music of a very well regarded composer.
David A. Hollingsworth | Washington, DC USA | 05/06/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ernst Von Dohnanyi (1877-1960) is deemed, at least by many, as the greatest pianist-composer after Lizst. His reputation rests mostly as a legendary pianist than as a composer (he wrote barely fifty works overall). But, his music offers a great deal to admire and if he doesn't quite measure up to Bartok or Kodaly, his stamp on the history of music (and of Hungarian music) is very considerable and shall not be overlooked. After all, it was Bartok who had high regards for the older Dohnanyi and look upon him as a model and a mentor (and with good reasons). The First Symphony of 1900 is a very striking work, and I've grown to admire it quite strongly over the years (since the release of Botstein's electrifying performance with the London Philharmonic under Telarc). It's not the most original of compositions; its rather Brucknerian beginning, the rhetoric somewhat Brahmsian and Dvorakian in places, its orchestration that's Wagnerian in sonority. But, it never short of being "somewhat" idiomatic. Sample, if you will, the middle section of the elegant Molto Adagio movement, with its Gypsy-like writing of the woodwinds and strings that anticipates the masterpieces of Kodaly, like the "Peacock Variations" and Dances from Galanta. The Scherzo is rather Lisztian yet quite attractive, but the Intermezzo is elegant and graceful with some memorable viola writing (played with abundance of warmth by Janet Fisher). But, the theme with variations finale (Dohnanyi's favorite device), shows the composer with some relentless creative spirits and imagination and there's much to admire about the finale's introduction, which is powerful yet original (again anticipating Kodaly). After all that, it's quite an astonishment that only two recordings of it are available. Fifty-three years had passed before Dohnanyi composed the very fine American Rhapsody. Needless to say, this composer went through quite a bit intermittenly. Not only was he deeply affected by the World Wars, the latter which led to his exile from Hungary due to the Nazis, he also experienced the disdain of many because of his decision to first settle in Austria; the feeling of contempt that heavily damaged his legendary piano career. Via South America, he eventually settled in the United States where he became a piano professor & a composer-in-residence at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Clearly, this composer had more of his share of tribulations. The Rhapsody is therefore nostalgic, and understandably so. The introduction is fairly rambunctious, quite American in its outgoing way. But the following section, @1'13"-ff, is rather heartfelt. His knowledge of Black-American music is quite obviously here; the cor anglais solo with low strings sing a rather mournful song that Afro-Americans can relate to (or anyone with a feeling of loss for that matter). And even in a moderately faster tempo, I sense a homage to Kodaly and fleetingly to Goldmark. Yet at 6'10" Dohnanyi's writing is as spirited as Ives before a rather heroic (or shall I say defiant)climax at 8'05". The remaining of the piece shows once again that American festivity as in the Introduction (again evoking Ives). Looking at it deeply, it's more substantial than a melting-pot, assimilationist type of work. But, if you like Dvorak's American Suite, you'll have much to admire in the Rhapsody (and that I promise).Performances overall are wonderful yet not so taut, though my verdict of the Symphony remains with Botstein as the benchmark of the two. Botstein's vision of the score is that of power and pure conviction and his London players relish every bit of raw energy and excitability for the score, yet with underlying warmth and sensibility (they bring out the Dvorakian sweetness and innocence well to the fore in the slow movement, yet so exotic looking in its middle section). But Matthias Bamert is hardly less exciting and warm and I admire how he gives the work with more dramatic ebb & sweep at points in the outer movements (the coda is very breathtaking under his hands). The BBC Philharmonic is very much at home with these works and the recordings are spectacular. A rather important release some six years ago, even though Dohnanyi's revival may be on a stand-still as we speak."
Superb performances of some underrated music
G.D. | Norway | 04/28/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Dohnanyi's rather early first symphony is a fascinating and endearing work, if somewhat uneven and written in an eclectic voice (Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Dvorak are audible influences, at least). The work is cast in five movements and exhibits some interesting argumentative patterns and (perhaps more importantly) genuine inspiration and a sure ability to create interesting orchestral textures. Best are, perhaps, the attractive and atmospheric scherzo and the inventive if slightly overlong finale, but the whole work is more than merely interesting and rewards repeated listening. The much later American Rhapsody is slighter, but still an attractive work that makes some imaginative use of traditional tunes
The BBC Philharmonic Orchestra provides some excellent playing, brilliant and surefooted, and some marvelously lush and detailed textures (with some superb touches such as the opening of the scherzo). And Bamert's reading is sophisticated and thoughtful - he clearly takes the music as seriously as it deserves to be taken - while still dynamic and dramatic. He takes what is, in the end, a rather broad view, in particular of the first two movements (at least compared to Botstein, whom I haven't heard) Sound quality is excellent, spacious and detailed. Overall an excellent disc you'd be well advised to add to your collection."