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

The music of Ernő Dohnányi has led a sporadic recorded existence until fairly recently; Chandos and have put us all in their debt by recording most of his orchestral scores, and Naxos have joined in together with the piano music. More recently, Martin Roscoe has recorded the fourth and final volume in his Hyperion series of the complete oeuvre for piano, which is scheduled to appear in the near future.

Dohnányi has fallen into the shade of the much more radical Bartok, and the mildly more adventurous Kodály. This is a shame, because he was capable of writing satisfying, late romantic music in all genres, including three operas, only one of which has been recorded, a Szeged Mass, a Stabat Mater and a Symphonic Cantata, none of which have made it to the recording studios. This is a pity, and one day I hope to be able to listen to all of these, various enterprising record companies permitting. It would also be nice to have a biography other than that written by his third wife, which is rather light on musical details, although staunch in defending him against the politically inspired and totally false accusations of being an anti-Semitic Nazi sympathiser.

The longest work on this CD is his Ruralia Hungarica Op.32a composed when Dohnányi was 47. It exists in four versions: the one here for solo piano, and shorter transcriptions for Orchestra Op.32b, Violin and Piano Op.32c, and Cello and Piano Op.32d. I myself possess other recordings of all of these, and when compared with the Naxos piano disc, I think that this performance is to be preferred. This is largely because the recording better captures the tone of the piano, and in comparison with Naxos’ Markus Pawik, Valentina Tóth allows herself a bit more time to relax into the music.
The work is itself is very memorable, consisting of seven movements of pleasingly contrasted character, with the melodic first followed a fiery dance like second, an andante third and adagio sixth. The composer consulted Bartok and Kodály’s collections of Hungarian and Transylvanian folk-songs, and included a range of these in the work. As might be expected, Hungarian inflexions abound and I have very much enjoyed re-acquainting myself with it.

The five movement Humoresken was composed when he was 30, teaching at the Berlin High School for Music, and is not Hungarian in style. In comparison with the Ruralia it is more traditionally romantic, and Brahms sometimes springs to mind. Dohnányi draws on musical forms from the 18th Century – the fourth part is a pavane to which the composer adds four variations. One of them is indeed a salute to Brahms, because the melody is the well-known Gaudeamus igitur which the older composer had used to memorable effect in his Academic Festival Overture.
The disk ends with the short Pastorale on a Hungarian Christmas Song, composed in 1920. This work is not mentioned on the booklet front, nor on the first page. In fact, it only appears in the booklet track listing and back face of the CD. The composer was 43 when he wrote it, and as may be inferred from the title, it has a definite Hungarian flavour. It begins in a gentle pastoral atmosphere with a gently rocking melody, supported by bass notes. As the piece progresses, the tune is accompanied by the sound of bells, and given that the title of the Hungarian Christmas Song is ‘The Angel from Heaven’, we can assume that Dohnányi is portraying the angel’s descent from on high.

This CD has been produced to very high standards, and the standard plastic case is enclosed in a cardboard sleeve. Apart from the missing references to the Pastorale’s title, the booklet is informative about both the music and Ms.Tóth. It also contains several photographs of the artist.

Jim Westhead



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