Few record companies seem to be holding such a candle for Dohnányi’s chamber music as Hyperion. By my reckoning, this present release features its third recording of the Hungarian composer’s Serenade for String Trio, a Brahmsian early 20th-century work made famous by Heifetz, Primrose and Feuermann. The Nash Ensemble may not boast such stellar soloists as that particular team, but their playing is no less dazzling in the tricky Mendelssohnian will-o’-the-wisp figurations of the Scherzo and the fast and furious semiquavers that grace the Finale. However, the Nash scores over its illustrious rivals in the contemplative Romanza and Tema con variazioni movements, where the players deliver even greater poetry and variety of moods.
The Third Quartet dates from the 1920s. Brahms is still a strong influence, but acerbic harmonies suggest the composer responded to his contemporaries Bartók and Kodály. The Nash Ensemble’s high voltage interpretation serves the music well, having tremendous physical impact and bringing an unusual, urgent intensity.
Dohnányi’s final chamber work, the 1935 Sextet for piano, clarinet, horn and string trio, must be regarded as one of his finest achievements. Dark resonances percolate the complex first movement and the troubled, almost funereal middle section of the Intermezzo. After more nostalgic reminiscences of Brahms in the lyrical third movement, Dohnányi rounds things off with a breathlessly syncopated Finale boasting an irresistibly catchy main theme. The Nash Ensemble triumphantly surmounts all the technical challenges while projecting absolute enjoyment of and devotion to the music.