Dohnányi: Piano Concertos - Gülbadamova, Matiakh. © 2020 Capriccio Records

CD Spotlight

Romantic Concertos

GEOFF PEARCE listens to
Dohnányi's two piano concertos

'Sofja Gülbadamova is a superb pianist who obviously identifies with this composer and has the crispness, accuracy and flair to bring off these two works.'

 

These two Dohnányi piano concertos are separated by a gap of nearly fifty years, the first being composed in 1897-98 and the second in 1947 and although both are in the Romantic style they are quite different from each other.

The first concerto, written originally for a competition and submitted as a single movement work, was later expanded to three movements in the version heard on this disk. The work was often featured in the many concert performances the composer gave as a touring virtuoso. It is traditionally Romantic and starts with a slow dramatic introduction, before the main Allegro makes its presence. The piano writing is as would typically fit a concerto of this period. There is a considerable variety in the mood of this movement, and it is in three main sections. At twenty odd minutes, it could almost be a concerto in its own right, and the work is somewhat rhapsodic.

Listen — Dohnányi: Adagio maestoso - Allegro - Molto adagio
(Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor)
(track 1, 15:40-16:36) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

The second movement opens with a French horn theme upon which four variations are built. It is linked to the first movement by using an expansion of a chorale-like theme that made its appearance in the first movement. I love this movement. It is for the most part tender and soulful, but there are also moments where it is energetic and dramatic.

Listen — Dohnányi: Andante (Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor)
(track 2, 4:34-5:17) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

The last movement is nearly the length of the first movement. It employs a waltz rhythm that appears throughout the movement. Thematically it is based on the opening of the first movement, and the chorale theme also plays a part.

Listen — Dohnányi:
Vivace - Cadenza con orchestra - Vivace - Maestoso - Presto - Più presto
(Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor)
(track 3, 3:08-3:52) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

There is a cadenza (with orchestra) which is quite long and appears relatively early in the movement. This is followed by a fast contrapuntal section, leading to an even faster and joyous final section which features the chorale again. The movement has the exuberance of a glittering grand ball scene. The final chorale theme treatment reminds me of the grandeur of Tchaikovsky.

Listen — Dohnányi:
Vivace - Cadenza con orchestra - Vivace - Maestoso - Presto - Più presto
(Piano Concerto No 1 in E minor)
(track 3, 15:40-16:25) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

Whilst the technical aspects of this concerto are considerable, it has a beauty and lyricism about it which makes it compelling. The work has been regarded as a major concerto from this period and it surprises me that it is not played often these days. This is in fact the first time I have heard it.

The second concerto, composed in 1947, and also in three movements, requires considerable virtuosity and was conceived as a work for the composer (who was seventy at the time of writing it) to perform. It is more sophisticated and shorter than the earlier concerto. Unfortunately today it is all but forgotten.

The first movement opening is generally sunny yet epic in disposition. Although the initial theme quickly reveals conflicts and dramatic moments, the second theme by and large dispels this.

Listen — Dohnányi: Allegro - Allegro non troppo (Piano Concerto No 2 in B minor)
(track 4, 4:23-5:12) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

The second movement is serene, lyrical and more intimate. It has moments of great tenderness and almost feels like a nocturne. There are sombre moments but they are fleeting.

Listen — Dohnányi: Adagio - Poco rubato (Piano Concerto No 2 in B minor)
(track 5, 5:56-6:44) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

The final movement is optimistic, very lively and at times one can hear shades of Bartók and Rachmaninov. This romp of a movement is testament to how good a pianist Dohnányi must have been to regularly perform it.

Listen — Dohnányi: Allegro vivace - Più mosso - A tempo
(Piano Concerto No 2 in B minor)
(track 6, 2:37-3:19) © 2019 Deutschlandradio / SWR, 2020 Capriccio :

I believe that all who hear this disc will be enchanted and be as surprised as I am that these works are not performed more often. I hope that this stunning recording will do much to correct this. Sofja Gülbadamova is a superb pianist who obviously identifies with this composer and has the crispness, accuracy and flair to bring off these two works. They would be the undoing of a lesser pianist. Ariane Matiakh's direction is exemplary, as is the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz. This is aided by a stellar recording quality seldom heard on many of the recordings made these days. The ambience is perfect and one can hear every note without suffering audio burnout.

I would urge anyone who enjoys piano concertos in the Romantic style to rush out and get this disc - you would be hard pressed to find better.

Copyright © 8 July 2020 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia

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CD INFORMATION: DOHNÁNYI PIANO CONCERTOS

FURTHER INFORMATION: ERNST VON DOHNÁNYI

FURTHER INFORMATION: CAPRICCIO RECORDS

 

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