Stuart Sillitoe
MusicWeb International
April 2019

My familiarity with Martin Roscoe’s recordings of Ernő Dohnányi began, not with volume 1 of this series (in fact I still have not got that disc) but with his discs for the long lamented ASV label in both solo and chamber piano music, and I have spoken to him in the past about his fondness for this music. I do however have volumes 2 (CDA67932) and 3 (CDA68033) of this wonderful series, with this present disc being the culmination of seven years of detailed hard work. These discs, together with Roscoe’s 1993 recording of the two piano concertos for Hyperion’s Romantic Piano Concerto series (Vol. 6 CDA66684) add up to a significant contribution to the catalogue of Ernő Dohnányi’s oeuvre.

Despite the time difference between the recording for ASV and those recorded for Hyperion, the music recorded for ASV featuring on the first three volumes, Martin Roscoe’s approach is remarkably similar, with very little to choose between the recordings as regards tempo, with only a few seconds here or there. He does, however, seem more relaxed for Hyperion, which leads to a more nuanced and colourful interpretation, and this atmosphere is carried over into this final volume of Ernő Dohnányi’s piano music, a disc which includes some of the composer’s most imposing works.

The disc opens with the Concert Études Op 28, completed in 1916, the first of which opens with a lovely rippling effect in the right hand whilst the main theme is stated in the left; this is a work that quickly states the composer’s deeply romantic credentials. Whilst Roscoe is slower than Markus Pawlik on Naxos, there is no loss of excitement in these six pieces, with Pawlik sacrificing clarity for speed, especially in the sixth and final Étude the F minor Capriccio which is probably the best known of the six. Here, Roscoe plays with a fervour and accuracy that, whilst he may not be the most exciting, he is certainly one of the most poised and musical in his approach which makes this a recording well worth exploring.

The Suite in the Olden Style Op 24 dates from 1913 and displays Dohnányi’s lifelong fascination with the music of the baroque period. It is clear from the outset that this Suite is meant not to copy the music of the past but to evoke the feel of the baroque suite. The structure of the Suite resembles that of the earlier period, as it opens with a classically galante Prelude with its contrasting sections including a quite romantic sweep, before moving on in to a series of movements that make reference to baroque dances. The first of these is a charming Allemande which has a French feel about it, especially of the second half of the nineteenth century. This is followed by a lively Courante and then a slow Sarabande that contrasts well with the following Menuet, which although only moderately paced serves well to set up the final movement, the sprightly Gigue. Martin Roscoe distinguishes well between the various styles, playing the more classical pieces with great charm, whilst giving the more romantic lyrical movements a sense of grace.

The Six Pieces Op 41 were completed in 1945 and are based on the character pieces by the likes of Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms. Again, this set of pieces opens with a slow, almost melancholic, Impromptu which is followed by a skittering Scherzando, with the title referring to the Italian meaning of ‘little joke’. What follows is quite different, with the Canzonetta being slower and darker in feel, romantic in its brooding nature. The excellent booklet notes tell us that whilst 'the opening movements differ little from the charming character pieces that Dohnányi had been composing since he was eleven, the final three pieces are more indicative of their genesis'. That is to say, they are more descriptive in nature, with the fourth, ‘Cascades’, being a reminiscence of a waterfall he had visited in Austria. The impetus for the next piece, ‘Ländler’, comes from an Austrian dance, the forerunner of the waltz. The final piece of the set is entitled ‘Cloches’ (Bells) and was composed shortly after Dohnányi had learnt that his son Michael had died in a Russian prisoner-of-war camp, with the sorrowful peel of the bells displaying the composer’s grief.

There then follow two stand-alone pieces, the first of which is my favourite piece on the whole disc, the Passacaglia in E flat minor Op 6, which again harks back to his love of baroque music and more especially that of one of his heroes, J. S. Bach. With its opening ostinato bass pattern and its complex counterpoint this is a thrilling piece, that deserves to be heard more often. The final work on the disc mirrors each of the discs in this series, in that it demonstrates what a fine arranger of other composers’ music Dohnányi was, here we get a thrilling account of the Rondo alla Zingarese from Brahms’ Piano Quartet No 1, a fitting end to this disc and the series as a whole.

Throughout this disc, and indeed the three of the series that I own, the playing of Martin Roscoe is excellent; yes, as mentioned above, some might like a bit more fire in the Capriccio of the Op 28, but Roscoe’s attention to detail, coupled with his flair and panache makes this an essential disc, and indeed series, for any lover of the music of Ernő Dohnányi, and indeed for anyone coming to this music new. As already mentioned, the booklet notes, in English, German and French are excellent, in that they give detailed accounts of the music and of the composer, whilst the recorded sound is up to Hyperion’s usual high standard.