Classical Music Review: New Releases

Ernö Dohnányi - Music for Cello. Konzertstück for cello and orchestra, Op. 12; Sonata in B flat minor for cello and piano, Op. 8; Ruralia Hungarica for cello and piano; Op. 32d.  Maria Kliegel, cello; Jenö Jandó, piano; Nicolas Esterházy Sinfonia; Michael Halász, conductor.  Naxos 8.554468 (62'29).

Ernö Dohnányi (1877-1960) was not a terribly prolific composer, but what he wrote was golden.  Often grouped with Bartók and Kodály as an exemplar of Hungarian composition, his music is actually closer to the strain of German romanticism embodied by the music of Brahms.  Indeed, it was Brahms who first promoted Dohnányi by arranging for a performance of Dohnányi's Piano Quintet, Op. 1 in Vienna when the composer was an unknown student of 18.  Brahms's influence on Dohnányi's music would remain central for the rest of his career.

During his life, Dohnányi was best known as a conductor and pianist.  He studied with D'Albert and toured Europe with the conductor Hans Richter before obtaining a post at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik with the help of Joseph Joachim.  He later moved to Budapest where he was the conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic.  He was named the Director of the Conservatoire of Music in 1934, a post he resigned in 1941 in protest over anti-Jewish laws.  He left Budapest in 1944 and settled, via Austria and Argentina, in the United States in 1949, where he was composer-in-residence at Florida State University.  His students include Géza Anda, György Cziffra, Annie Fischer, Georg Solti and a whole generation of Hungarian musicians.  The conductor Christoph von Dohnányi is his grandson.

Konzertstück (1904) is a cello concerto in all but name.  Consisting of three interlinked sections, the piece has a restrained and yearning feeling throughout.  As in Dvorak's concerto, woodwinds are prominent in the score, the cello often duetting with a solo clarinet or flute.  The music frequently seems to build towards moments of high drama, only to back down, creating a subtle tension which has the effect of gently propelling the piece forward.  With the paucity of accessible, romantic concertante works for cello, it is surprising that this marvelously crafted work is not heard more often in the concert hall.

The Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 8 (1899) is a more impassioned, less reflective piece.  The two soloists are well-balanced throughout and the work is given a strong sense of unity by the recurrence of several themes in each of the four movements.   It is, perhaps, a more anonymous work than the Konzertstück, but it is solid and betrays a sure compositional hand.  There's a great sense of forward momentum to the work, enhanced by Dohnányi's decision to place an extended scherzo before the brief slow movement.  The sonata concludes with a masterful set of variations.  Pianist Jenö Jandó and cellist Maria Kliegel give splendid performances, sympathetic to one another and seemingly conscious of the work's larger structure.

The concluding Ruralia Hungarica, a transcription by the composer of one of his most famous works, makes a nice encore.  Its mixture of "Hungarian" elements a la Liszt is redeemed from pastiche by Dohnányi's melodic gift and compositional good sense.  This is a delightful release.

Tony Gualtieri

Return to Main Page