Dohnanyi: Symphony No. 2; Symphonic Minutes

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LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2; Symphonic Minutes
PERFORMER: BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert
Elder architect, with Bartók and Kodály, of Hungary’s 20th-century musical revolution, Dohnányi’s fame as a composer rests on the bravura wit of his Nursery Rhyme Variations, to the virtual exclusion of his other works. This disc may change that. The Second Symphony, largely composed in Hungary during the Second World War but finalised only in 1960 in the USA, shortly before Dohnányi’s death, is ambitious (50 minutes here), deeply-felt and masterfully composed for large orchestra, if a little old-fashioned for its time. The first movement generates genuine symphonic momentum: the pastoral Adagio and a brilliantly pawky scherzo sustain the interest. But the huge finale, a magnificently inventive variation structure on Bach’s chorale ‘Komm, süsser Tod’ (Come, sweet death), is really outstanding, gradually finding its way to a mood of defiant triumph in the face of tragedy. Admirers of the symphonic art of, say, Enescu, Szymanowski and Korngold will find much to cherish in this noble, richly-scored work. The coupling, a suite of five brief and characterful movements, is highly enjoyable. Bamert secures first-rate performances: his shaping of the symphony’s finale is especially impressive, and Chandos’s 20-bit recording is one of the finest they have given this orchestra. Calum MacDonald