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Ernő DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
The Complete Solo Piano Music: Volume Two
Four Piano Pieces Op.2 [27:33]
Variations and Fugue on a theme of EG Op.4 [19:04]
Humoresques in the form of a suite Op.17 [25:43]
Valses nobles after Schubert [7:30]
Martin Roscoe (piano)
rec. Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, UK, 7-9 December 2011.
HYPERION CDA67932 [79:55]

Dohnányi is one of those composers who have been a victim of their own success based principally upon one piece that has prevented many from discovering the wealth of compositions that are their legacies. In Dohnányi’s case that piece, Variations on a Nursery Tune, composed in 1914, and to a lesser extent, his Ruralia Hungarica, which dates from 1924 are regularly programmed. Both concert and radio producers have often been guilty of giving too few airings of others of his works.
As a composer of piano music his compositional style is akin to that of his mentor Johannes Brahms though similarities with Chopin, Schubert and Schumann are everywhere to be heard. That he was a brilliant pianist is evidenced by some of his illustrious pupils such as Andor Földes, Géza Anda, Annie Fischer, György Cziffra as well as Sir Georg Solti.
This second volume of his solo piano music concentrates on works written early in his career between 1897 and 1907. The first of his Four Piano Pieces Op.2 is a brilliant scherzo with an extremely catchy core tune which remains in the memory and could easily become one of those earworms that continually play themselves in your head. The second, the first of two intermezzi, is likewise a tune that would be recognisable again as it is also memorable with its key jumping habit. The second is an altogether a more sedate affair with an allusion to the famous words from the biblical book of Ruth which by its position in the Bible also acts like an intermezzo between the books around it. The work is introduced by three lines of poetry that Robert Reinick fashioned from Ruth’s famous declaration that exemplifies fidelity ‘Where you go I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God’ (Ruth 1:16) with the words becoming ‘Wherever you go, I am yours/Wherever you live, you are truly mine,/I truly have you, and my love!’ Ruth was talking to her mother-in-law while Dohnányi was alluding to his current love Elsa Kunwald, though in fact she became only the first of his three wives. The final piece is a Capriccio that is considered difficult with the composer broadening the structure and making it scherzo-like. Again one is struck by the huge talent on display in this work that is so reminiscent of Brahms, for a man still a student at what is now the Franz Liszt Academy.
Dohnányi’s Variations and Fugue on a theme of EG Op.4 is a fantastic work that he wrote shortly after leaving the Academy. The EG in the title refers to Emma Gruber who was married to a wealthy Hungarian and who lived near Munich where Dohnányi was having piano lessons from Eugen d’Albert. Dohnányi became her piano teacher and since she prided herself on discovering and promoting new talent he benefited from becoming a frequent performer in her salon. The work is huge in scale with a theme followed by thirteen variations and ending with a fugue. Its gentle opening theme is again very Brahmsian in character and the variations never wander so far from it that the main theme is lost within them and that makes for a really satisfying feeling of continuity. I found variation number 6 a particularly affecting Brahms like tune but all of them are wonderful and the entire work is pure brilliance. Themes with variations became a form he returned to for many of his best known works including the famous Variations on a Nursery Tune - or infamous if one considers how it has so often helped obscure his other works.
This disc helps redress the balance and underline how marvellously inventive a composer he was. I hope it will help in a reappraisal. The Variations and Fugue on a theme of EG Op.4 formed part of his inaugural concerts in 1897 from which he launched his career as a pianist-composer. He went on to become one of the principal pianists of his generation with concert tours throughout Europe, Great Britain and America. In 1907 following his appointment as a professor at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin he wrote his Humoresques in the form of a suite Op.17 in which he takes different musical styles from the past and subjects them to his unique treatment. Thus we have March, Toccata, Pavane from the 16thcentury with variations 1-5, Pastorale with an Introduction and fugue to finish. Once again Dohnányi’s inventive talent is on display in these superb little pieces that exude brilliance and wonderful melodies throughout.
The disc’s final offering is a scintillating transcription of several of Schubert’s Valses nobles which demonstrate Dohnányi’s brilliance in taking works by other composers and ‘covering’ them in a way that results in a new and refreshingly original take.
Martin Roscoe is an absolute master when it comes to repertoire such as this and one could well imagine the composer himself looking on as he plays with a smile of approval. This disc is number two in a series of four covering all of Dohnányi’s solo piano music. Together with his recordings of the two piano concertos Roscoe has done this composer a great service in helping him emerge from the success of the aforementioned Variations on a Nursery Tune and show that there was very much more to him than that.  

Steve Arloff