SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

DOHNANYI: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3; Rural Hungarica – Kocian Quartet/ Vaclav Bernasek, cello/ Jaromir Klepac, piano – Praga Digitals

Wonderful performances of late Romantic quartets by the Hungarian composer Erno Dohnanyi.

Published on July 17, 2010

DOHNANYI: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3; Rural Hungarica – Kocian Quartet/ Vaclav Bernasek, cello/ Jaromir Klepac, piano – Praga Digitals

DOHNANYI: String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3; Rural Hungarica – Kocian Quartet/ Vaclav Bernasek, cello/ Jaromir Klepac, piano – Praga Digitals multichannel SACD PRD/DSD 250 268 – [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] 62:01 *****:

Although he was Hungarian, the pianist, composer, conductor and teacher Erno Dohnanyi (1877-1960) is not remembered in the same breath as Bartok or Kodaly. His compositions were in the late Romantic style, yet, he promoted his avante garde countrymen and mentored pianists Annie Fischer, and Geza Anda and the great conductor Georg Solti. His grandson was the conductor Christoph von Dohnanyi. He pursued a busy career as a concert pianist and made the mistake of moving to Vienna during the Anschluss, a move that was interpreted as pro-Nazi. His two sons were executed by the Nazis, his music was banned and he moved to the United States where he continued his career as pianist and teacher. Dohnanyi’s compositions have only become recently well known, as his music is melodic and closer to Brahms than any of the twentieth century modernists. [Many readers will be familiar with his Variations on a Nursery Tune for piano and orchestra – which tune happens to be Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star…Ed.]

What’s immediately discernible on this CD is how beautifully the Kocian Quartet performs these ripely Romantic quartets. The Quartet No. 1 (1899) adheres to a classical four movement structure with clear melodic lines. Notable is the Gypsy-inspired last movement, Vivace. Ruralia hungarica was a set of seven piano pieces, one of which was set for cello and piano. It’s a melancholic and beautiful musical palette cleanser for the Third Quartet which follows. Cellist Vaclav Bernasek and pianist Jaromir Klepac play it lusciously.

While the Third Quartet (1926) is written in the late Romantic style, there are indications that Dohnanyi was influenced by his contemporaries (after all, it’s 1926!). There are unresolved dissonances and differing meters are placed next to each other.  The coda of the first movement, furioso, is practically a mini-movement in itself. The andante, a theme and variations, shows Dohnanyi at his structural and harmonic nadir and the vivace giocoso finale is jubilantly luminous. This is a Romantic gem that should be performed a more often in concert. Of course, there’s the matchless recording of the Hollywood Quartet (1955) which is two minutes slower than the Kocian Quartet. But I like the wider variance in tempo and the added drama of the Kocian’s performance in superlative current stereo.

Anyone not familiar with these quartets will find much pleasure in these wonderful Romantic compositions.

– Robert Moon




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