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CLASSICAL  February 2005

CLASSICAL February 2005

Subject:

Dohnanyi's Second Symphony; Symphonic Minutes

From:

Scott Morrison <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 12 Feb 2005 11:42:12 -0600

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text/plain

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Dohnanyi: Symphony No. 2; Symphonic Minutes
Matthias Bamert, BBC Philharmonic
Chandos CHAN 9455

5/5 stars

Two Candidates for Repertoire Status in Excellent Performances

I cannot recall any time recently when I've been more bowled over by
music new to me.  I had earlier reviewed Dohnanyi's First Symphony,
conducted by Leon Botstein, and loved it.  I was contacted by a musical
friend who said, in effect, 'if you think THAT's good you should hear
his Second Symphony.' Well, he was right and then some.  Both the works
on this disc--the Second Symphony and the so-called 'Symphonic Minutes'
('Szimfonikus percek' in Hungarian)--confirm for me that Dohnanyi is a
vastly underrated composer.  He is not only a first-rate tunesmith (a
prerequisite for greatness in my book) but also a master of form and
orchestration.  'Symphonic Minutes,' a five-movement suite, starts with
as striking and memorable a bit of orchestration as that, say, of
Respighi's 'Pines of Rome.' Flitting flutes - often flutter-tonguing,
celesta, gossamer strings and breathless double-tonguing horn quartet
express the kind of wit and excitement the subtitle 'Capriccio' and
tempo, Vivacissimo possibile, imply.  The second movement, Rapsodia,
features a lovely song on the English horn, one of Dohnanyi's favorite
melody instruments (and mine).  The brief Scherzo is a bumptious tour
de force of metrical irregularity.  The Theme with Variations is based
on what sounds like a folk-song, sung by cor anglais with spice added
by glinting celesta, and in its four minutes it goes from sweet and
tender to brassy and martial.  The Rondo finale is a breathless perpetuum
mobile in polka rhythm.  I'm told by a Hungarian musical friend that at
its first performance in Vienna the audience didn't 'get it.' Hard to
imagine.  I really do think this 15-minute gem could easily be a concert
opener or even a pops concert favorite.

The Second Symphony in E Major, Op.  40, starts with a portentous,
irregular, jagged theme suggesting Big Events.  Written in the early
Nazi years, it would be tempting to guess it was inspired by current
events, but we'll never know about that.  The second theme, played by
the violas, is lyrical, serene and a welcome relief from the agitation
of the earlier moments.  As the movement progresses it becomes more and
more Romantic as if Dohnanyi is hoping beauty and romance will conquer
all.  There are, though, menacing interruptions now and again by peremptory,
even brutal, brass and snare drums, reminding us of the earlier disquiet
and they ultimately reassert their former strength through to the end
of the movement.  The second movement is a welcome island of utterly
lovely late Romantic beauty, from the beginning cor anglais melody
(there's the instrument again!) through some gorgeous Brahmsian
string-dominated harmonies.  There is a rhapsodic duet for clarinet and
(alto?) clarinet over string tremolos in the middle section that is
joined eventually by, you guessed it, cor anglais, and then the rest of
the solo winds.  This has a rapt autumnal, slightly melancholy sound.
The movement returns to its earlier atmosphere of calm and serenity.
The Scherzo, called here 'Burla,' reminds one of the Scherzo of the
'Symphonic Minutes' in that it is awkwardly energetic, brimming with
cynical sass.  This one has glissing trombones--shades of Bartok!--,
snarling trumpet strawberries, mocking piccolos, oompahing tuba, and a
Kabalevskian nonchalance.  The Finale comprises a short andante introduction
leading to an extraordinarily beautiful harmonization for divisi strings
of Bach's 'Komm, suesser Tod'--the BBC Philharmonic's strings are almost
too beautiful for words here; tears come to my eyes simply recalling the
depth and sheen of that sound--followed by an arch-form of five variations,
and ending in classic style with a masterful recording for the Symphony.
It is stunning.  But we need more, more, more recordings and performances
of this towering piece.  Please.

Urgently recommended.

TT=64:34

Review at:

   http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000000AZ3/classicalnetA/

Scott Morrison

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