Dohnanyi: Symphony No. 1 in D minor; American Rhapsody

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 1 in D minor; American Rhapsody
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
The first symphony of any importance by a Hungarian, Dohnányi’s First (1900) is an ambitious work, amply laid out in a late-Romantic idiom redolent of Dvorák, Tchaikovsky and Bruckner but with prominent Magyar elements. The unusual five-movement form (the extra movement is an Intermezzo with solo viola, rather a Brahmsian concept) lends it a suite-like or serenade-like aspect, and indeed the strivings of the sonata-form movements are more decorative than motivated by the predominantly lyrical material.


Since Dohnányi’s Symphony received its world premiere in Manchester, under Richter, in 1902, it’s very appropriate to find it recorded by the BBC Philharmonic. In the first two movements Bamert’s affectionate reading is slightly broader than Leon Botstein’s rival Telarc version with the LPO, and somewhat tauter in the last three, but there’s little to choose between them except that Botstein has no coupling. Bamert on the other hand finds space for Dohnányi’s last orchestral work. The American Rhapsody (1953) is an affectionate working-over of popular tunes and idioms of his newly adopted country (Matthew Rye’s booklet note doesn’t specify any, but I noticed ‘On top of Old Smoky’ and ‘Betsy from Pike’ among other standards, and a surprising episode on ‘Sir Roger de Coverley’) in unexpectedly old-fashioned style – beautifully orchestrated, with a nice line in nostalgia, but not of great consequence. Calum MacDonald