Dohnányi: Symphony No 1 - Roberto Paternostro. © 2019 Capriccio Records

CD Spotlight

Unhurried and Spacious

GEOFF PEARCE listens to
Ernst von Dohnányi's first symphony

'... a fantastic disc ...'


The outstanding pianist, conductor, teacher, administrator and composer Ernst von Dohnányi (1877-1960) produced a rather small output, spanning quite a long period, possibly because of his wide-ranging activities. Not many of his works are performed these days, so I was pleased to see these two works featured on this recording. He was strongly influenced by Brahms and the later Romantic composers, but also by the composers Bartók and Kodály, with whom he was friends. He was particularly interested in their research into the folk music of the region.

The First Symphony in D minor was composed in 1901 and contains five movements. The first movement is in sonata form. Immediately, one is struck by a lush romantic sound, and interesting harmonies. One certainly can hear the influence of both Brahms and Bruckner here, but Dohnányi's is very much an individual voice. I am surprised that this tuneful, at times dramatic and colourful work is not performed much more often. This is certainly the first time I have heard it. There are many contrasting moments, and as a listener, one is never bored. The instrumentation is assured, the themes well developed, and harmonically the work is very interesting in the directions it takes. It is unhurried and spacious.

Listen — Dohnányi: Allegro ma non troppo (Symphony No 1 in D minor, Op 9)
(track 1, 7:32-8:18) © 2019 Capriccio Records :

The second movement, Molto adagio, opens with a lovely extended cor anglais solo against plucked lower strings, before the strings extend the idea, and the movement expands. The sound of the orchestra and playing, throughout this disc, is sumptuous, and especially so in this movement. There is a lot of contrast between when the woodwind has the thematic interest and the broader strokes created by the strings. This is a very atmospheric movement, with sublime melodies, heroic moments and slightly ominous ones too.

Listen — Dohnányi: Molto adagio (Symphony No 1 in D minor, Op 9)
(track 2, 5:20-6:02) © 2019 Capriccio Records :

The third movement is relatively short and fast as a contrast to the expansive second movement and the relatively unhurried first. It is somewhat spooky, but because many of the dark moments are interspersed by dance-like passages, it never gets gloomy. It is an orchestral tour de force with a lot of florid wind writing.

Listen — Dohnányi: Scherzo. Presto (Symphony No 1 in D minor, Op 9)
(track 3, 1:35-2:22) © 2019 Capriccio Records :

The fourth movement is even shorter - just over three minutes, and the viola is featured as a solo instrument. This is quite a touching moment.

Listen — Dohnányi: Intermezzo. Andante poco moto (Symphony No 1 in D minor, Op 9)
(track 4, 2:24-3:11) © 2019 Capriccio Records :

The fifth movement is the longest and probably the most complex in form, with a broad and short introduction which gives way to a simple theme, and four not so simple variations, of contrasting nature. Here the composer shows his skill as an orchestrator. This leads into an exciting final fugue.

Listen — Dohnányi: Finale (Symphony No 1 in D minor, Op 9)
(track 5, 11:56-12:35) © 2019 Capriccio Records :

The symphony is followed by the five-short-movement Symphonic minutes, Op 36, written thirty odd years later. This work is cheerful, colourful, has a national flavour and colour, and ends the disc in style. The writing is dazzling and virtuosic, and it certainly makes me wish that the composer had written more.

Listen — Dohnányi: Capriccio (Symphonic minutes, Op 36)
(track 6, 0:00-0:45) © 2019 Capriccio Records :

This is a fantastic disc, and I doubt that there's anyone who would not find enjoyment with the music, the superb playing by the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz and conductor Roberto Paternostro's assured direction. For me, this is a most satisfying disc.

Copyright © 27 December 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia







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