DOHNANYI: Konzertstuck for Cello / Cello Sonata / Ruralia Hungarica (Jeno Jando/ Maria Kliegel/ Michael Halasz/ Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia) (Naxos: 8.554468)
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Konzertst??ck in Dmajor for cello, Op. 12
Sonata in B flat minorfor cello and piano, Op. 8
Ruralia Hungarica forcello and piano, Op. 32d
The final years of the nineteenth century and the opening of thetwentieth saw the Austrian Habsburg Empire divided by nationalism, on the brinkof a political collapse which was made reality after the First World War.
Despite that political and social turmoil, or perhaps because of it, this wasone of the most rewarding and exciting times for the culture and citizens ofCentral Europe. Revolution in the arts and sciences was in the air everywhere.
It was the age of Mahler, Freud, Bohemian Symbolists and Austrian Seces?¡sionists.
Psychoanalysis was the new buzzword and the world seemed to be rushing into achange that would alter concepts of art and music forever.
This was the background to Dohnanyi's formative years. Born on July 27th1877 in the town of Pressburg (now better known as Bratislava), his father wasa mathematics teacher and a keen amateur cellist. Encouraged in his music, theyoung Dohnanyi soon showed considerable talent as a pianist. When, at the ageof eighteen he launched his Op. 1 Piano Quintet, it was the great Brahmswho took an interest in the young composer and arranged for a performance inVienna.
Brahms was responsible for much of Dohnanyi's early success as acomposer and the younger man's music is indebted to the mellow quality of hisbenefactor's own chamber works Piano studies also came on apace with the helpof his teachers D'Albert and Kcessler. In 1899 he was invited to play in aEuropean tour as soloist in Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto under thegreat conductor Hans Richter. In 1905, Brahms' violinist friend, Joachim,invited him to join the Berlin Hochschule f??r Musik as professor of piano. Itwas in 1915 that he reached Budapest where, after the end of the war, he wasgiven the prestigious position of Director of the Conservatoire for Music aswell as conductor of the Budapest Philharmonic.
In 1931, Dohnanyi was appointed Director of the Hungarian State Radioand later Director of the Budapest Academy. The inter-war years in Hungary sawan alarming shift towards the political right with support for the German Nazisand a terrifying growth in anti-semitism. Sympathy for the Government putDohnanyi in an awkward position at the close of hostilities in 1945. Havinglost both his sons in combat and being at odds with the new socialist powers,he fled to Argentina in 1948 and from there ended up as composer-in-residenceat Florida State University in 1949. As composer and pianist, he remained inthe United States until his death in New York in 1960.
Unlike the ground-breaking developments in a Hungarian national style ofmusic that were being made by his compatriots, Bartok and Kodaly, Dohnanyiremained conservative and traditional. He took little inspiration from folkmusic although he did compose a Variations on a Hungarian Theme and theshort pieces known as Ruralia Hungarica. Like his other contemporary,Franz Lehar, he relied on accessibility and the German Romantic tradition -particularly the music of Brahms.
Accessibility is paramount in the works on this recording as well as inhis most popular work, the Variations on a Nursery Song, a fantasy forpiano and orchestra based on the nursery rhyme Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Thereis humour and affection in that piece, an affection which describes much ofDohnanyi's work, be it the lyricism of the Konzertst??ck, lightness ofthe sonata or the attempt at Hungarian folk music in the Ruralia Huugarica; astyle which owes more to Brahms' Vienna than to Bartok's Transylvania.
Of the two major works represented here, the Konzertst??ck of 1904is a full scale cello concerto almost half an hour long. Dedicated to its firstperformer, Hugo Becker, it clearly owes inspiration to an affection for his owncello-playing father. In three interconnected parts, this is a lyricalrhapsody, beginning quietly out of the orchestra from which the cello seems tosing through a central Adagio until parting with a sense of regret atthe end.
The Cello Sonata was first performed by its dedicatee, Ludwig Lebell,and the composer at a London concert in December 1899. Somewhat in the shadowof the later Konzertst??ck this could easily be the work of one of theGerman Romantics. Amongst its attractions are the nine variations of the finalerecalling earlier parts of the sonata and an example of one of the composer'sfavourite forms.
Ruralia Hungarica is one of many pieces given that title, ranging fromsolo piano to full scale orchestral treatments, including the later SymphonicMinutes, given as a ballet in 1930s Budapest. Like the rest of the series,here is a portrait of village life with echoes of a lyrical and calmcountryside seeped in an idealised classical folk style. Dohnanyi remains acomposer in all well worth attention as one of Central Europe's late Romantics.
Never the last word in modern tendencies, there is much in the way of lyricism,nostalgia and melody.