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Monday, March 6, 2017

Ernő Dohnányi - Symphony No. 1 (Leon Botstein)


Composer: Ernő Dohnányi
  1. Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 9: I. Allegro ma non troppo
  2. Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 9: II. Molto adagio
  3. Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 9: III. Scherzo (Presto)
  4. Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 9: IV. Intermezzo (Andante con moto)
  5. Symphony No. 1 in D minor, Op. 9: V. Finale (Introduzione, Tema con variazione e Fuga)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Leon Botstein, conductor
Date: 1998
Label: Telarc



Leon Botstein places his cards squarely on the table by insisting that ‘this fantastic and compelling piece of music has been unfairly neglected’. He certainly supports his claim with a convincing performance, magnificently recorded, and though I would challenge ‘fantastic’, ‘compelling’ isn’t too far off the mark. The symphony was composed in 1900, a time – as now – when the challenge of balancing the old with the new posited new levels of artistic responsibility. Dohnanyi tended to side with tradition, though his harmonic style is fairly pan-European.

The opening horn theme conjures Bruckner’s symphonic world, and the music soon flares to a heady climax before raindrop pizzicatos lower us to the lyrical second set (2'27''). The scoring borders on the Wagnerian (Dohnanyi makes great play with his horns and lower strings), though I found the first movement’s ‘extensive development’ (annotator Peter Laki’s term) somewhat overcooked. The slow movement occasionally hints at gipsy music, the Scherzo seems vaguely reminiscent of the parallel movement in Dvorak’s Fourth; there’s a very attractive ‘Intermezzo’ that calls on themes from previous movements (the solo viola part is especially appealing), and a powerful theme and variations finale.

Dohnanyi’s penchant for rich colours and unexpected key relations invariably holds one’s interest, though I would hesitate to rate this auspicious First Symphony a masterpiece. Its ultimate shortcoming is that it lacks distinction of the sort that charges Bruckner’s First, Mahler’s First, Rachmaninov’s First and even Reger’s long-winded Sinfonietta with their own unmistakable personalities.

-- Gramophone

More reviews:
BBC Music Magazine  PERFORMANCE: **** / SOUND: *****


Ernő Dohnányi (July 27, 1877 – February 9, 1960) was a Hungarian conductor, composer and pianist. He used a German form of his name, Ernst von Dohnányi, on most of his published compositions. Dohnányi's compositional style was personal, but very conservative. His music largely subscribes to the Neoromantic idiom. Some characterize his style as traditional mainstream Euro-Germanic in the Brahmsian manner (structurally rather than the way the music actually sounds) rather than specifically Hungarian, while others hear very little of Brahms in his music.


Leon Botstein (born December 14, 1946 in Zürich, Switzerland) is a Swiss-born naturalized American conductor, scholar, and the President of Bard College. Botstein’s many books, essays, and articles on music and culture have earned him a reputation as a leading musicologist. As a conductor, Botstein has performed as a guest conductor with many leading orchestras in the world. He also inaugurated an important series of recordings of neglected masterpieces with the Telarc label, using the American Symphony Orchestra and a variety of European orchestras.


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