WORKS: Ruralia hungarica; Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor
PERFORMER: Howard Shelley (piano); BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9649
A little Wagner and a large measure of Brahms are the prime ingredients in Dohnányi’s youthful, accomplished, excessive and very likeable First Piano Concerto. Written at the age of 20 in the year of Brahms’s death, it is as much a testimony to its composer’s powers of virtuoso pianism as to his feeling for large-scale musical architecture. In truth it’s perhaps a little on the long side, but the large canvas is filled out with such skill and such meaty material that one hardly minds. Howard Shelley delivers a performance of gusto and affection, especially impressive in the eloquent slow movement, whose unfolding polyphony above march-like pizzicato basses is more like Bruckner than Brahms.
The mature suite Ruralia hungarica, founded on folk-tunes collected by Bartók and Kodály, is
a more familiar work, in its way a classic of 20th-century Hungarian music, displaying Dohnányi’s skills as a master orchestrator. Although there are several competing versions, this new account from Bamert, by turns opulent and incisive and making the most of the colourful orchestral detail, seems to me to be the best currently available. Altogether an attractive disc that will enhance the reputation of the Hungarian master. Calum MacDonald