CD Reviews (The Straits Times, September 2012)

DOHNANYI Piano Music Vol.1
Hyperion 67871 / *****

Although Erno Dohnanyi (1877-1960) was one of the great pianist-composers of the late Romantic era (ranking alongside the likes of Rachmaninov, Scriabin, Busoni and Grainger), his solo piano music is rarely heard these days. Even the popular Variations On A Nursery Tune gets a rare and very occasional airing, if any. This first volume of complete piano music by British pianist Martin Roscoe is a sympathetic and timely reminder of the Hungarian’s craftsmanship and virtuosity.

The Four Rhapsodies Op.11, laid out like a Brahmsian four-movement sonata, is perhaps his best known work. The scherzo-like Third Rhapsody was once a very popular encore of the rapturous, barnstorming kind, and the concluding Fourth Rhapsody sounds like the definitive apotheosis of the Dies Irae theme.

The Ten Bagatelles of Winterreigen (Winter Round Dances) are more ambitious than the title suggests, looking back to Schumann’s lyricism (the first is titled Widmung, for example) and ahead to Busoni’s complexities. Dohnanyi’s last piano work Three Singular Pieces (1951), while rooted in the Romantic past, does however attempt some modernisms. The final Perpetuum Mobile is a forerunner to Ligeti’s kinetically-charged Etudes. Finally, his Pastorale (Hungarian Christmas Song) and transcription of Delibes’s Coppelia Waltz are elegance personified. Warmly recommended.   

Complete Duo Recordings
Deutsche Grammophon 477 9524 (13CDs) / *****

This very substantial box-set is the fifth part of a retrospective documenting Argentine pianist Martha Argerich’s prodigious recorded output on the German yellow label over the decades. Among her favourite partners in chamber music are violinist Gidon Kremer and cellist Mischa Maisky, both originally from Latvia, with whom she has recorded the complete Beethoven duo sonatas. Kremer’s rather dry and wiry tone is an acquired taste, which you either love or loathe, but his approach works well for the two discs of 20th century music – sonatas by Prokofiev, Janacek and Bartok. The Hungarian’s First Violin Sonata receives the most blistering, hell-for-leather performance thought possible.

Maisky is more congenial, and his contributions include J.S.Bach (sonatas originally for viola da gamba and harpsichord), Beethoven’s sets of Variations, Schumann (including the Cello Concertosans Argerich) and two love concerts in Romantic (Chopin and Franck) and 20th century Russian (Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich) repertoire. Argerich’s role is pivotal to the success of these collaborations. More than mere accompanist, she is the livewire that sparks her partners like never before and perhaps after. The original sleeve art has been reproduced for all 13 discs, and this budget-priced release retails for $79.90 at HMV. This is, in reality, a steal.