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Hyperion Records

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Autumn by Emil Parrag (b1925)
Private Collection / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67932
Recording details: December 2011
Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, United Kingdom
Produced by Jeremy Hayes
Engineered by Ben Connellan
Release date: January 2013
Total duration: 19 minutes 4 seconds

'The opening pages of Dohnányi's Op 2 might well have been penned by Brahms in one of his jollier moods … the finale reveals a taste for bravura writing in the great pianist-composer tradition. The Variations may be Brahms-lite, too, but no less appealing, helped not a little by Martin Roscoe's sensitive sculpting and dynamic shading. The subtle changes he rings in the repeat of the theme's initial statement are an indication of the care and imagination he brings to the whole score … Roscoe rounds off this rewarding voyage of discovery with Dohnányi's transcription of nine of Schubert's 12 Valses nobles in performances which surpass the composer's own … and in immeasurably better sound' (Gramophone)

'You can't help but be impressed by Dohnányi's compositional assuredness … all performed with consummate technical mastery and musical insight' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Connoisseurs of late Romanticism and aficionados of early twentieth-century music all owe Martin Roscoe an immense debt of gratitude … it would be difficult to overpraise Roscoe's accomplishment … the music simply flows unimpeded and we are left to bask in Dohnányi, whose music, at its very least, is always subtle, charming, cultivated and immensely communicative. Very warmly recommended' (International Record Review)

'Roscoe's ongoing Hyperion series is cause for celebration … Roscoe yields nothing to the composer as pianist, a testament to his stature in this repertoire … a project of major significance' (International Piano)

'Martin Roscoe is an absolute master when it comes to repertoire such as this and one could well imagine the composer himself looking on as he plays with a smile of approval. This disc is number two in a series of four covering all of Dohnányi’s solo piano music. Together with his recordings of the two piano concertos Roscoe has done this composer a great service in helping him emerge from the success of the aforementioned Variations on a Nursery Tune and show that there was very much more to him than that' (MusicWeb International)

Variations and Fugue on a theme of EG, Op 4
1897; dedicated to Emma Gruber

Fugue  [5'58]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Dohnányi graduated from the Academy of Music in 1897 and spent the following summer at Lake Starnberg, near Munich, taking lessons from the eminent piano virtuoso Eugen d’Albert. It was then that Dohnányi composed his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG, Op 4—a monumental work that would soon be hailed by the Viennese press as ‘the most valuable enrichment of music literature since Brahms’.

The ‘EG’ who composed the theme was Emma Gruber, to whom the work is dedicated. She was born Emma Schlesinger, but her family changed their last name to Sándor to conceal their Jewish heritage. After marrying a wealthy Hungarian named Henrik Gruber, she became a prominent benefactor who hosted fashionable soirées in her Budapest salon, where she prided herself in discovering and promoting new talent. The young Dohnányi become her piano teacher and then a frequent performer in her salon. Dohnányi and Gruber even teamed up for the premiere of his Waltz for four hands, Op 3, another work that he dedicated to her. Gruber was also a patron of Bartók and Kodály, marrying the latter after the death of her first husband.

Gruber’s theme is a simple minuet, reminiscent of the aria on which Brahms based his Handel Variations. In the first two variations, Dohnányi replaces the ebb and flow of the original rhythms with more regular quaver and semiquaver subdivisions. The third variation introduces a minor tonality, while also continuing to explore bolder harmonies. This increased chromaticism is especially noticeable in variation 4, in which the original key of G major is barely identifiable. Dohnányi continues to play with both harmony and rhythm in the lilting scherzando of the fifth variation. In the sixth variation, the original minuet tempo is slowed to an emotive Adagio in G minor. Variation 7 remains in the minor, speeding the tempo slightly for a staccato canon. The eighth variation is faster still, returning to G major for chordal passages that contrast with both the preceding variation and the bravura ninth variation. The tempo quickens again for variations 10 and 11, by which time the original harmonies of Gruber’s theme are barely recognizable. The twelfth variation harks back to the playful simplicity of the original theme before the entrance of the menacing final variation.

Throughout his career, Dohnányi would maintain a special affinity for the theme-and-variations form. Later compositions that would feature this design include his Variations on a Hungarian Folksong for piano, Op 29, as well as movements from his Cello Sonata, Op 8, the Serenade for string trio, Op 10, the Suite for orchestra, Op 19; the String Quartet No 3, Op 33; and the Szimfonikus percek (Symphonic Minutes) for orchestra, Op 36. The Variations and Fugue on a Theme of EG concludes with a complex four-part fugue based on Gruber’s theme. This was Dohnányi’s first use of the established technique of following variations with a fugue, one that he would subsequently employ in the finales of both of his symphonies as well as in his famous Variations on a Nursery Song for piano and orchestra, Op 25.

from notes by James A Grymes © 2013

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