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Monday, June 02, 2008

Two Magnificent Violin Concertos

Ernö von DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)

Violin Concerto No. 1 in d minor, Op. 27 (1915) [40:41]

Violin Concerto No. 2 in c minor, Op. 43 (1949) [30:43]

Michael Ludwig, (violin)

Royal Scottish National Orchestra

JoAnn Falletta

Recorded 20-21 August, 2007 in Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow.

NAXOS 8.570833 [71:24]

Ernö von Dohnányi, unlike his contemporaneous countrymen Kodaly and Bartok, held firmly to the romantic lyricism that pervaded German music in the nineteenth century, and although he lived well into the twentieth, he never forsook his penchant for the lush orchestrations and sweeping melodies that he learned while studying in Germany. A bit of a wandering minstrel, Dohnányi lived all over the place, finally settling in the United States where his reputation was seeing a bit of a cleansing at the time of his death. Admired by Brahms as a young man, he never really gave up the nineteenth century, in spite of his being surrounded by the tumultuous upheaval in music that came after the Second World War.

These two splendid violin concertos are undeservedly neglected on contemporary concert programs, and the saints are to be praised that Michael Ludwig has stepped up to give us such fine and compelling performances. The first concerto, dating from 1915 opens with a lengthy first movement, cast in three sections, first breathlessly dramatic, then calmly lyrical and ending with a large flourish. The achingly beautiful second movement is worth the ticket price with its serene pace and its gorgeous melodies. One is reminded a bit here of the music of Korngold. A flashy vivace folds into a finale that is similar in style to the opening movement.

Mr. Ludwig has a rich yet very clear tone. He is quite facile in the virtuosic demands of the Vivace, and is able to produce a warm and tender cantabile in the stunning second movement. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is ably and nobly led by JoAnn Falletta who coaxes a vibrant and sonorous tone from the strings, and who keeps the winds and brass in fine balance. The result is a thrilling wall of sound where called for with no expense spared for the careful nuance of detail.

The second concerto begins a bit more aggressively than the first, but it is not long before its opening stridency melts into a film-score lushness that would have made Jack Warner proud. Although similar in structure to the first concerto, Dohnányi shuffles the cards a bit, moving the poignant slow movement to third position and tossing off the flashy fast movement in less than four minutes. It all ends with a triumphant finale.

Again, Ludwig and Falletta are in their elements, and it is very clear that all concerned are reveling in this stirring music. One can hope that more soloists will add either of these pieces to their touring repertoire. It would be fun to hear what James Ehnes or Gil Shaham might have to say about such music. Michael Ludwig is indeed a force to be reckoned with however, and we can hope to hear more from him, especially if he continues to plumb such fine and underrepresented music as this in the future.


Can Bass 1 said...

My word, Mr Sutton - a fellow singer.I can forgive the fact that you're a tenor. After all, it could be worse - you might have been an alto!

Kevin Sutton said...

And an ANGLICAN. The world is a better place because we rescued music from the Romans!

Emily said...

James Ehnes has recorded the second Dohnanyi on the Chandos label, just so you know. :)

Kevin Sutton said...

Now how did I miss that. James and I have been friends for some time and I thought that I had all his recordings. I must get that one!