Classical Reissue Reviews

ERNST VON DOHNANYI Plays His Own Music for Piano – A Memorial Album – Everest/ Countdown Media

An unusual historical document of Romantic-era pianism in 35mm mag sound.

Published on November 12, 2013

ERNST VON DOHNANYI Plays His Own Music for Piano – A Memorial Album [TrackList follows] – Everest/ Countdown Media SDBR3061 ****:

This is a most unusual CD, containing as it does the last recordings by this important Hungarian composer, made just a few days before his death in 1960. Plus, they were recorded by the original Everest Records on 35mm mag film, as were most of their recordings, and played back on a Albrecht MB 51 mag film recorder-player. (This firm is well-known in the film restoration field for their state-of-the-art gear for restoring historic films and soundtracks in various formats.) Unlike most of the Everest originals, however, this one was two-channel rather than three.

Dohnanyi was born in and lived in Hungary until 1944. He visited the U.S. for the first time around the turn of the century and was a famous pianist, who also performed chamber music as well as solo and concerto performances. He became director of the Budapest Academy and had a rather checkered history of trying to please the Nazis in his attitude toward the Jews at the Academy and in the Budapest Philharmonic, which he conducted.  He even stayed in Budapest until 1944, thinking that Hitler would win the war with secret weapons. He later taught at Florida State University and he and his third wife became U.S. citizens in 1955.

Dohnanyi’s music is rather conservative, using elements of Hungarian folk music, but not to the extent as did Bartok and Kodaly. It is mainstream Euro-Germanic, and his best-known work might be his delightful Variations on a Nursery Tune for piano and orchestra. While he had recorded some 78s in the 1930s and a number of piano rolls in the 1920s for the Ampico Company, this Everest session by the 82-year-old musician was unique and is preserved with the utmost fidelity.  The five selections offer a cross-section of his art as both a composer and pianist.

First is the 1924 Ruralia Hungarica suite of seven movements, from which Dohnanyi performs five. Hungarian folk music provided the stimulus for this work. Later on the composer transcribed five of the movements for symphony orchestra. It is followed by Three Pieces Op. 23, from about a decade earlier, and then the somewhat later Etudes de Concert. He selects three of the six Etudes to perform. The Rhapsody in F-sharp Minor is one of four Rhapodies Op. 11 which the composer frequently performed publicly. For the closing selection Dohnanyi shows his affection for Viennese and German music in his colorful arrangement of The Gypsy Baron waltz by Johann Strauss.

These recordings demonstrate the heritage of Romantic-period pianism and are quite exceptional considering the age and ailments of the composer-pianist at the time. However, there is a sort of rushing-over delivery of many of the runs and chords, and occasionally some noticeable wrong notes, as in the last of the Ruralia Hungarica tracks. If you want even higher-res reproduction than this CD, this is available as a hi-res download at HDTracks.

TrackList:  Ruralia Hungarica Op. 32a; Three Pieces Op. 23; Etudes de Concerto Op. 28; Rhapsody in F-sharp Minor Op. 11 No. 2; JOHANN STRAUSS/DOHNANYI: Treasure Waltz from “The Gypsy Baron”

—John Sunier




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