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Dohnanyi: Chamber Music - Kocian Quartet, Beethoven String Trio

Dohnanyi: Chamber Music - Kocian Quartet, Beethoven String Trio

Praga Digitals  PRD/DSD 250 237

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Chamber


Erno Dohnanyi: Serenade in C for String Trio Op. 10, String Quartet No. 2 in D flat Op. 15, Piano Sextet Op. 37 with String Trio, French Horn and Clarinet

Kocian Quartet
Beethoven String Trio


Brought together for the first time, this anthology of chamber music works ranges from the last flickers of neo-Germanic Romanticism to the nationalism of the early 20th century. Written by a great Hungarian musician.

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Review by John Miller - May 5, 2007

I came to know and enjoy Dohnányi's music from his heady Rhapsody in C for Piano, Ruralia Hungarica for orchestra and the delectable Variations on a Nursery Theme for Piano and orchestra. Until now, I had not explored his chamber music, and this new Praga release has provided that opportunity. It shows very clearly that Dohnányi was a vital link in the chain of development in chamber music from Beethoven and Brahms through to Kodály and Bartók. One might say that he was one of the latest of the Romantics, and as a conductor and performer he actively fostered the music of the younger Hungarian tyros. It is often in the intimacy of chamber music that composers reveal their emotional responses to events in their lives, and this is true for Dohnányi. As a brilliant concert pianist, teacher and conductor, he lived a very busy life, but this was marred by the killing of both of his sons by the Nazis - one of them was executed for an assassination attempt on Hitler himself.

The three works here come from several periods; a 5-movement Serenade for String Trio from 1902; his second string quartet from 1906 and the sextet for piano, string trio, clarinet and horn from 1935. Together they make a most rewarding and entertaining seventy-odd minutes of listening. Dohnányi's style is wonderfully inventive, yet concise and cogent; not a note is wasted nor are there moments when attention wanders. The music is always clearly going somewhere, in surprising and delightful ways. It is superbly written for the instruments, giving each part fine melodies and interesting textures. This is generous music, reflecting the man, and must be a real gift to play.

I think the String Trio Serenade is a masterpiece of this genre. Each of the five movements only last a few minutes - the opening Andante-Allegro less than two. In the scherzo I was reminded of the fugal section of Elgar's Introduction and Allegro for Strings. The longest movement is a slow set of variations on a theme which is like a Hungarian folk song. The slow-fast form of each movement in fact also belies Dohnányi's Hungarian roots. The last movement uses a Hungarian theme from Haydn's Trio no 39 in G, thus paying homage to his classical roots.

The 3-movement String Quartet no. 2 is in the deeply romantic key of D flat major. Its tripartite construction was also used by Bartók in his early quartets, the first of which was written just after Dohnányi's no. 2. The first movement takes a single eloquent and noble melody as its basis for development, and this melody returns, at least partly, in the other movements, thus the overall conception is cyclical. The Presto second movement is darker - its indication is acciaccato (violent). The strings are roughly and constantly driven like a moto perpetuo, a wild and exciting ride indeed. Some relief is given by a lyrical section with the viola playing on the bow while the other strings dance pizzicato around it. The finale is based on a long-breathed melody of Beethovenian gravity and intensity, before strings and bows dig into a passionate gypsy-like faster strain. there are many "Magyar Moments" in this score!

The Sextet which concludes the disc was written after a period in which Dohnányi was forced to rest after overworking and stress. His friend Kodály wrote that it reflected his "return to life". The combination of instruments is unusual but works so well, that it almost sounds like an orchestral piece, so rich are the textures. The first movement is ripe and full of nostalgia, featuring the melodic side of the horn's character, then moves to a Mahlerian type of slow 'funeral' march in the second movement. The third movement becomes sentimental, opening with a long clarinet tune, but Dohnányi eventually finds his way back to a normal life in the finale, where we hear his marvellous skits on contemporary music types in a jazz-influenced and jolly romp which makes a really happy and witty close.

The Praga recordings, as we have come to expect, are very fine, not too close but with excellent timbral detail. I thought the Trio recording, in the Domovina Studio, Prague, was a little on the dry side for my taste, listening in multi-channel, but curiously there was a little more air around the Kocian Quartet's contribution at the same locale. For the Sextet, the engineers moved to the Martinů Concert Hall, where there was a much more open sound for the group, allowing the horn and clarinet to bloom nicely.

Sleeve notes, in English, French and German are well-written and most helpful, particularly in pointing how Dohnányi used his classical anticedents in writing music in the new century.

I wholeheartedly commend this disc to lovers of chamber music, and even those wanting to dip their toes in the chamber waters; there is everything to enjoy here and nothing to fear. Dohnányi's status has gone up quite a few notches in my estimation and this disc will be under my laser quite often.

Copyright © 2007 John Miller and HRAudio.net

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