Movement 1: Allegro
Movement 2: Scherzo (Allegro vivace) – Trio – Reprise
Movement 3: Adagio, quasi andante
Movement 4: Finale (Allegro animato – Allegro)
It is a work of exacting technical prowess, revealing in each of its four movements a temperamental audacity and prodigality of invention far surpassing our normal expectations of any early opus. The work has few direct parallels beyond its apparent sympathies with the Piano Quintets of Schumann and Brahms, but the heady frisson of passions which drives the music forward from the outset is imbued with the invulnerability of youth, as yet little tempered by the burden of experience brought by full maturity. The opening Allegro begins as the piano sets out the broad, ardently mobile first subject idea, which will return to crown the entire work in the coda of the Finale. The strings develop the opening motif in a majestically sonorous, striding unison (if any caveat can be levelled at the Quintet, it might be that Dohnányi’s search for near-orchestral weight of tone leans too persistently on straightforward unison scoring for the string group), which gives way to the cello’s announcement of the relaxed second theme of the exposition. The mood is spacious; broad paragraphs flow majestically towards the beginning of the development, at once more urgent and impulsive, as the strings introduce a tense stretto punctuated by fugal fragments of the first subject, debated over a pulsating piano accompaniment. Roles are reversed as the piano takes over the primary material, supported this time by an uneasily fractured string figure, passed between violins and cello, as mounting rhythmic and harmonic pressures anticipate a massive climax. The recapitulation follows with a jubilant and declamatory unison reprise of the main theme. The coda is supremely self-confident, bringing the movement full-circle in a blaze of tonic-key glory.
In the Scherzo, the spectre of a Bohemian ‘furiant’ is thinly concealed behind a brusque, enervated and palpably Brahmsian façade, counterpoised by gentler entreaties in the Trio of near-Schubertian grace and melodic richness. The coda deserves special attention, for it revisits and subtly combines seemingly irreconcilable elements of both Scherzo and Trio.
Had the Adagio been from Brahms’s pen, we would not hesitate to describe its mood as autumnal. But Dohnányi’s impulse was deeply personal, and the elegiac character of the principal idea, played by the viola, invests what follows with hushed, reflective poignancy, though the theme itself sounds lovelier still when entrusted to the cello in the closing paragraphs of the movement. The Adagio follows a simple A–B–A ground-plan; the second group brings another quasi-Schubertian idea, initially for strings alone, introduced after a breathtakingly effective modulation. The Finale, a strutting rondo in 5/4 time, takes as its theme a proud Magyar-inspired idea, and is prodigiously imaginative. Note, for example, the discursive fugal passage set in motion by the cello (also given the luxuriant secondary theme of the movement) and the clever use of imitative textures in the episode which follows. But stern academicism gives way once more to the rondo theme, now heard against the backdrop of a Viennese waltz. The coda brings back the opening theme of the entire work, played by the piano and followed immediately by the strings, in preparation for a grandiose reiteration of the Magyar motif. Dohnányi’s Opus 1 ends triumphantly; it could scarcely be otherwise.
from notes by Michael Jameson © 1996