Hyperion Records

Piano Quintet No 2 in E flat minor, Op 26
1914; first performed by the Klinger Quartet with the composer at the piano in Berlin on 12 November 1914

'Dohnányi: Piano Quintets & Serenade' (CDH55412)
Dohnányi: Piano Quintets & Serenade
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55412  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Allegro non troppo
Track 10 on CDH55412 [9'22] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Intermezzo (Allegretto)
Track 11 on CDH55412 [5'14] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Moderato – Tempo del primo pezzo
Track 12 on CDH55412 [10'02] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

Piano Quintet No 2 in E flat minor, Op 26
The Piano Quintet in E flat minor, Op 26, dates from 1914 and is distanced from its predecessor by almost exactly two decades. Though slimmer in proportion (in three rather than four movements, with the conventional Scherzo and slow movement replaced by an Intermezzo), the work is more intense and emotionally concentrated. A glance at Dohnányi’s output reveals that the Quintet emerged hard on the heels of his Variations on a Nursery Theme and the Suite in the Olden Style for piano solo, Op 24. Although written in close proximity, all three works present an unusual polarization of styles, though Dohnányi’s musical language was rarely so dramatically charged as in the case of his second Piano Quintet, an undisputed masterpiece of his maturity.

The work was written during the summer and early autumn of 1914, mainly in Berlin where it was first performed on 12 November by the Klinger Quartet with the composer at the piano. Its volatility and urgency reflected Dohnányi’s innate response to the rapidly enveloping turmoil of the period, though in no sense is the work other than wholly abstract in form; indeed, much of its harmonic language is remarkably progressive, and its unique coloration owes something to both the languorous exoticism of Debussy and the radicalism of Schoenberg. But Dohnányi wears modernism with discretion, and even a superficial comparison of his two piano quintets will highlight the depth and gravity, not to mention the greater economy and lucidity of Op 26 to immediate advantage.

The work opens in an atmosphere of unsettling mystery as the strings give out a foreboding low-register idea against a hushed piano accompaniment. The main first subject of this Allegro non troppo (which has echoes, surely, of Rachmaninov) is elastic and powerful, its inner tensions deliberately repressed, though made more public and palpable when developed fully after the viola’s triplet figure anticipates a new episode, in which the piano becomes the dominant and heroic protagonist. A new subsidiary idea of more lyrical and expansive character is debated in increasingly chromatic dialogue between piano and strings, and the development section itself is remarkable for its concentration, though the music has assumed stronger nationalistic identity than noted previously, except perhaps in the Finale of Op 1. The recapitulation, too, is abrupt and thoroughly impassioned.

Although the traditional Scherzo and slow movement have been replaced by an Intermezzo, the weighty issues explored in the opening movement remain unresolved until addressed afresh in the Finale, and so the middle movement does not provide the psychological foil to the movements it appears to bridge. Instead, the restless atmosphere of the opening Allegro imbues the nostalgic, unmistakably Viennese gait of the Intermezzo with unexpected reserve, even as the viola gives out the principal theme of the movement. There follows a free exploration of this, and several other motifs, juxtaposing sinuously reflective material with passages of more assertive character, though existing anxieties are never deeply concealed.

The Finale opens with a sombre, slowly evolving canon announced by the cello and gradually developed contrapuntally by the other string voices, striking an immediately tragic and regretful note. The piano appears with a solemn and valedictorily charged chorale, and these two elements provide the core material for the entire movement. Free development involves the speeding up of the canonic theme from the start of the movement, and the seething complexity of Dohnányi’s scoring now fully reveals the modernism of this episode to full effect; the influence of Schoenberg’s style is plainly evident. But the tragic and pessimistic aspect of the music gives way to a mood of expansive optimism in a coda of splendid affirmation, all doubt being banished during the cathartically triumphant final pages of the work.

from notes by Michael Jameson © 1996

Track-specific metadata
Click track numbers opposite to select

Details for CDA66786 track 12
Moderato – Tempo del primo pezzo
Recording date
30 March 1995
Recording venue
All Saints' Church, East Finchley, London, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Antony Howell & Julian Millard
Hyperion usage
  1. Dohnányi: Piano Quintets & Serenade (CDA66786)
    Disc 1 Track 12
    Release date: July 1996
    Deletion date: November 2009
    Superseded by CDH55412
  2. Dohnányi: Piano Quintets & Serenade (CDH55412)
    Disc 1 Track 12
    Release date: March 2012
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
   English   Français   Deutsch