ERNO DOHNANYI plays = DOHNANYI: Variations on a Nursery Tune, Op. 25; HAYDN: Andante and Variations in F Minor; BEETHOVEN: Andante Favori in F Major, WoO 57; Piano Sonata No. 17 in D Minor, Op. 31, No. 2 “Tempest”; SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen, Op. 15 – Erno Dohnanyi, p./ Royal Philharmonic Orch./ Sir Adrian Boult – Pristine Audio PASC 408, 79:18 [avail. in various formats from www.pristineclassical.com] *****:
Recording editor and producer Mark Obert-Thorn resurrects two of the rare Remington inscriptions, from Don Gabor’s 1951 LP devoted to Hungarian composer-pianist Erno von Dohnanyi (1877-1960), once described as “the last surviving representative of the romantic age of Brahms, Schumann and Wagner.” The major contribution to this important restoration – along with the HMV Variations – the Remington discs (RLP 199-16; RLP-199-43), offer Dohnanyi (in the latter LP) at the keyboard and announcing, in English, each of the thirteen movements comprising Schumann’s Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15. In spite of Remington’s notoriously noisy vinyl surfaces and distant microphone placement, Obert-Thorn manages to distill a clear, even warm resonance in Donhanyi’s affectionate performance. The producer does admit that the episode, “Important event,” suffered such damage that an earlier pressing resides here. At the composer’s advanced age, his playing does not always exert digital control and accuracy, but the intensity of expression never lacks for authenticity.
One could claim that Haydn’s own pedigree contains Hungarian elements, so Dohnanyi’s rendition of the 1783 Andante and Variations in F Minor, a remarkable double-theme and variations whose F Major coda alone runs for 83 measures, has the requisite color elements. Dohnanyi maintains an energetic pulsation in this work – not always easy with its labyrinth of moving trills and flowing triplets – and those variations in major become quite bold and extroverted. At the last bars in which the theme disintegrates, Dohnanyi’s pedal control projects a sense of mystery.
Commentators have termed Beethoven’s Andante favori in F as “too luxurious” for the original intention of the piece, to serve as the middle movement for the Waldstein Sonata. Donhanyi realizes its expansive loveliness, often concentrating on the powerful bass harmonies that support the fluid treble voice. Late in the exposition of this rondo form, Dohnanyi’s playing becomes dramatically insistent, then tapers off emotionally for an instant, only to resume an unusually aggressive demeanor, in spite of the music’s basic self-possession. The last page proffers a spirit of reconciliation with that has preceded. The D Minor Sonata in Dohnanyi’s performance maintains its exploratory character, a kind of experiment in opposing impulses of dominant arpeggios, largo, against sighing figures in appoggiatura, marked allegro. The explosive quality of Dohnanyi’s first movement belies his age, a sometimes meteoric vision in dramatic dialogue. The B-flat Major Adagio contrasts a placid sentiment in double-dotted motifs in high register against drum rolls in the bass. While the music hints at the minor keys, it never settles into any but major modes, despite the gruffly ominous portents that pass through Dohnanyi’s often delicate phrasing. The perpetuum mobile of the last movement challenges Dohnanyi’s fingers, certainly, but the warmth of expression more than compensates for digital slips. The sudden surges of motion and the tendresse of the quiet passages remind us of what a master tonal colorist Dohnanyi remained, both as composer and performer.
The 1914 Variations on a Nursery Tune bears the subtext, “For the enjoyment of humorous people and annoyance of others.” It begins with a Wagnerian panoply of dark colors in brass and tympani, only to relent and announce Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman that Mozart employed. The composer and Sir Adrian Boult (rec. 10-11 September 1956) collaborate in sparkling fashion throughout the one-finger-style tune and its twelve variants, and we can well savor the big moments, as when the piece quotes the Brahms B-flat Concerto in Variation 3. Dohnanyi imitates a music box with bells and harp at Variation 5. The sixth variant for piano and winds proves a colossal etude in orchestral technique. A bloated waltz, a march, and scherzo ensue, each an eclectic blend of Vienna and Hungarian humor. The last three variants pay homage to the composer’s polyphonic mastery, moving through a passacaglia, a chorale, and a final fugato that plays off the colors – among many – of the keyboard against the strings and contrabassoon. There have been more virtuosic renditions of this flavored work, but this possesses an elegance unique to its musical context.