String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 7 &
String Quartet No. 3 in A Minor, Op. 33
Shortly after his first successes as a concert pianist, Dohnányi brought out his First Quartet in 1899. It is a mature work, acknowledging the influence of Brahms whilst also adopting writing that hints strongly at Dohnányi's own Hungarian origins. It ranges widely and expressively, including both hymnal and folk elements in a richly rewarding way. The Third Quartet of 1926 is more harmonically questing and structurally sophisticated, and filled with vibrant melodies. Of the Aviv Quartet's previous Naxos recording (8.570965 / Schulhoff) MusicWeb International wrote: 'they sound simply fantastic...The playing is electric; no position is a weak link'.
Ernő Dohnányi (1877–1960) - String Quartets Nos. 1 and 3
Ernő Dohnányi was born in Pozsony (now Bratislava) on 27 July 1877. He initially studied music with his father, before entering the Budapest Academy of Music where he studied with Carl Forstner. From 1894 he studied piano with István Thomán and composition with Hans Koessler. His first published composition, the First Piano Quintet, earned the active approval of Johannes Brahms. Following lessons with Eugen dʼAlbert, he made a successful debut in Berlin in 1897, followed by similar successes in Vienna and on tour. He made his London début in 1906 with Beethovenʼs Fourth Piano Concerto, repeated for his American début the following year.
Joseph Joachim had invited Dohnányi to teach at the Hochschule in Berlin, which he did for ten years from 1905. In 1919 he was appointed director of the Budapest Academy but replaced soon afterwards for political reasons. As music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra, he promoted Bartók, Kodály and other Hungarian composers. During the 1920s, he performed the complete piano works of Beethoven and recorded his own works for the AMPICO reproducing piano. In 1934 he was again appointed director of the Budapest Academy but resigned in 1941 as a protest against anti-Jewish legislation. During the Second World War he stayed in Hungary despite fundamental differences with the fascist regime, but his unease over the post-war Communist government saw him move to the United States, where he taught at Florida State University School of Music. He died, of pneumonia, in New York on 9 February 1960 and was buried in Tallahassee, Florida.
Dohnányiʼs compositional style is rooted in the Austro-German classical tradition. While he made use of elements of Hungarian folk-music, he was not a nationalist composer in the manner of Bartók or Kodály. His compositions include three operas, a ballet and three major choral works. Otherwise large-scale abstract pieces dominate—two symphonies, two concertos each for piano and violin, a Konzertstück for cello and the Variations on a Nursery Rhyme for piano that is his best-known work. Piano music features prominently, while his chamber output includes sonatas for violin and cello, a Piano Quartet, two Piano Quintets and three String Quartets.
Dohnányi First Quartet appeared in 1899 and was published four years later. Although the influence of Brahms is frequently apparent, the formal approach in each movement as well as several unexpected tonal modulations (most likely of Hungarian origin) underline his determination to establish a more personal idiom.
The first movement begins with a warmly expressive theme that soon takes on a more animated demeanour without losing its essential poise. A second theme focuses on the lower strings and is moodier in its profile, though leading to an unruffled codetta. The development takes up the more volatile aspects of the second theme, drawing the music through some wide-ranging tonal modulations in the process. The reprise proves anything but literal, rather continuing the transformation of earlier material before it reaches an easeful codetta as before. This is now extended so that tension can be fully dissipated on the way to a serene close.
The second movement opens with a plaintive, somewhat Mendelssohnian theme for violin over a pizzicato accompaniment, with a ʻtailpieceʼ whose equable manner remains largely unchanged throughout the ensuing variations. The first of these unfolds deftly as a dialogue between the instruments, while the second ventures into harmonically and rhythmically more varied territory. The third takes on a hymn-like manner; then the fourth returns to something like the original version of the theme. The fifth variation is in the nature of a coda whose ʻrunning bassʼ imparts an ominous aura and which resolves only tardily to the main key at the close.
The third movement initially unfolds as a rapt adagio, with its main theme having a discreet though insistent folk-like tinge. The central episode brings with it a greater emotional charge and features some particularly felicitous interplay between the four instruments as well as hinting at the subtly extended tonal language that certain of the composerʼs Austro-German contemporaries (not least Zemlinsky and Schoenberg) were then developing. At length the opening theme returns, but its earlier expansiveness is pointedly not re-established and the movement unwinds to an almost provisional close, as though in anticipation of what is to follow.
The fourth movement resolves any such uncertainty with its energetic, rhythmically well-defined theme that is soon complemented by a more quizzical idea over a ʻrusticʼ drone bass. After the initial theme has returned briefly, a central development draws on elements of both themes for a tensile interplay of motifs in the best traditions of Viennese classicism. The first theme presently reasserts itself and now drives forward to a climax that is rhetorically cut short, only for elements of the second theme (including its drone bass) to underpin the music as it heads into a brief yet decisive coda which caps the movement, and the work, in no uncertain terms.
By the time Dohnányi composed his Third Quartet in 1926, European music had changed radically from that which existed before the First World War. Although he never abandoned tonality (and also steered well clear of serial thinking), the sophisticated handling of form in this piece is paralleled by a new expressive freedom.
The first movement commences with a hesitant theme that soon takes on greater forcefulness as its heads to a purposeful climax. After a leisurely transition, the second theme feels more settled and amiable though it reaches evinces greater emotional intensity as it heads into an uncertain codetta. Starting out as though a repeat of the exposition, the development is wide-ranging in its motivic transformation and expressive scope—building to a powerful culmination, from which a freely varied and cumulative reprise ensues. Here the second theme is extended and once more takes on a greater emotional volatility which spills over into the tempestuous coda.
The second movement centres on a meditative, hymn-like theme which unfolds in noble polyphony between the instruments, with the musicʼs harmonic richness and tonal intricacy increasing as it does so. After a brief pause, a lively scherzo variation interposes itself—drawing on elements of the theme as it reaches a finely wrought climax that can be taken as the emotional apex of the whole work. Winding down, the main theme is resumed in a variation whose ʻwalkingʼ accompaniment builds to a culmination. From here the music heads into an inward coda that touches on the essential pathos of the theme before bringing about a restful close.
The third movement (which one might initially assume to be a scherzo, though the fact that an equivalent of one featured in the previous movement makes this a relatively concise finale and the more effective in context) sets off with an animated theme which gives notice of a robust humour as it proceeds. This seems especially evident in the quizzical central episode, which makes inventive play with offbeat exchanges and rhythmic syncopation—after which the music continues its bracing course. This time a peremptory pause is reached, from which a constantly accelerating coda drives the music on to its dynamic yet good-natured conclusion.
|Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, September 2012
The First Quartet, op. 7…is an attractive work, strongly Brahmsian in flavor…
Israel’s Aviv Quartet plays these…difficult scores superlatively well. Their playing throughout is razor-sharp and thoroughly in sync with the music’s varying moods and styles. Every top-flight string quartet seems to have an outstanding violist, and such is definitely the case with the Aviv’s Nathan Braude. Naxos’s sound is fine.
These two works, particularly the Third Quartet, are not the most accessible of Dohnányi’s compositions, but they are well crafted and interesting in their own right…this release is a must-buy for those interested in Dohnányi’s music. © 2012 FanfareRead complete review
|Lynn René Bayley
Fanfare, July 2012
The key of A Minor pretty much dominates the proceedings, despite a very lovely, insinuating major-key theme in the middle. Yes, some of the music is edgy, the strings scored in close seconds and playing an almost rough rhythmic passage, but Dohnányi keeps bringing the listener back in with his lyric excursions, and even in its edgiest moments he never loses track of an easy-to-follow rhythm.
The First Quartet…according to the liner notes, owes something to Brahms…this piece, like the early String Trio, is really delightful.
The Aviv Quartet, a very youthful-looking bunch, approaches this music with an unusually warm, laid-back feeling that is still rhythmically alert and brings out all the subtle humor in the music. Their style emphasizes lyricism above all. © 2012 FanfareRead complete review
Fanfare, July 2012
The Aviv plays Dohnányi’s quartets quite splendidly, with a wealth of tonal bloom and a conviction in the music that comes through in a sense of real feeling for the composer’s personal style. I’d definitely recommend this over the older and somewhat stodgy Koch Schwann recording of the A-Major Quartet with the Artis Quartet…Naxos’s affordable price makes this an attractive buy for anyone wanting to get to know these beautiful Dohnányi string quartets. © 2012 FanfareRead complete review
American Record Guide, July 2012
The variations flow nicely, often with a hymn-like quality, and are sweetly moving. The lively, good-natured finale looks back to Haydn, often with swirling passages traveling between the instruments. Frequent use of a drone bass lends a touch of the ritualistic. The performances reveal these pieces for the worthy creations they are. The Aviv’s tone is appropriately dark, and their melodic lines are sweetly lyrical. Sound is excellent. The notes are informative. © 2012 American Record Guide Read complete review on American Record Guide
The Strad, May 2012
The Aviv Quartet…bring plenty of warmth to Dohnányi’s Brahmsian First Quartet…The Third Quartet…reiterates Dohnányi’s skills as a musical craftsman within the bounds of a questing tonality, and again the Aviv players sound fully at home in the idiom. They bring out the charm in the melodious writing yet in the verve of the finale never lose the security of their collective tone. © 2012 The StradRead complete review
MusicWeb International, May 2012
Dohnányi 1st Quartet has much that is nineteenth century romantic about it in its four movements. Brahms is to be heard as Richard Whitehouse points out in his informative booklet notes. The first movement is in clear sonata-form, but in the second movement I detected a touch of Dvorák. The movement is marked Allegretto grazioso. There are some folk-like elements in the main theme of the third movement a lovely Adagio, and in the drone bass accompaniment to the second theme in the breezy Vivace finale. Although weighing in at nearly half-an-hour the piece, for an early work, did not “outstay its hour”. It delivers a pleasing if somewhat undemanding experience, There were however some slightly quirky modulations, which point to a new way forward.
Along with their many other projects Naxos’s commitment to Dohnányi is noticeable. This is the fifth disc devoted to him in recent times. One can assume that the missing Second Quartet written during the First World War will appear in due course. It appears not to be available anywhere at present.
The Third Quartet, which curiously comes first on the disc, is an important utterance. The booklet notes say that the composer’s “significant handling of form in this piece is paralleled by a new expressive freedom”. I certainly concur but would add that by 1926 just a short time after Ruralia Hungarica’s success Dohnányi had finally found his voice. This quartet has just three movements. In the substantial first the two subjects are dramatically opposed both in terms of mood and key. I felt at times that the Aviv Quartet—beautifully photographed by the way on the back of the booklet—could have characterised these ideas even more firmly. Nevertheless there are some seriously passionate passages and some that are powerfully rhythmic which elicit strong attack and decisive commitment; note the breathless coda.
The second movement demonstrates the refreshing and free-thinking use of form mentioned earlier. It begins with a hymn-like opening, reminding me of a Victorian chant. After some development this falls into a Scherzo of some wit. There follows a strongly emotional passage based over a repeated pedal note. This dies into the opening melody, which is subtly varied and developed, especially in the accompanimental figures. The ending is calm and contented. The finale, by contrast, ends in a syncopated and excitingly rumbustious climax: an exhilarating Vivace giocoso. This is electric stuff at times and the playing likewise. In fact, as so often happens, I felt myself bemused as to why this quartet is not more often played and part of the standard repertoire. Perhaps someone in Hungary could tell us if it’s better known in Budapest.
I can only say that the disc is well worth the required modest investment even if only for the Third Quartet. Nothing about it will disappoint. © 2012 MusicWeb InternationalRead complete review
Audiophile Audition, April 2012
Erno von Dohnanyi (1877-1960) composed his Third String Quartet in 1926. From the outset of the Allegro agitato ed appassionato we feel a curious mix of musical styles, one that borrows modes from national Hungarian sources, with sudden exclamations from each of the instruments, as well as exhibiting strong formal ties to Brahms. Dohnanyi has no qualms about urging the lower two instruments to growl while the upper strings sing or skitter in wide, volatile leaps. A prominent viola part (Nathan Braude) proves as dexterous as it is expressive.
An Andante religioso con variazioni follows, hymnal in the style of Dvorak but whose idiosyncratic harmony and polyphony lie somewhere between Hungary and Enescu’s Romania. Cellist Rachel Mercer basks in her moment of sad lyricism, while the two violins (Sergey Ostrovsky, Evgenia Epshtein) soar in a lovely duet.
The First Quartet (1899; pub. 1903) could easily be attributed to Brahms or one of his artful imitators. The waltz tunes move through the viola and cello, intimate and expansive in a Viennese style. The modulations assume a modal character, close to Dvorak but tinged by quick rocket figures that smack of academic Mendelssohn. Nathan Braude’s viola emerges in a leadership role well into the development section, then the first violin sighs and lilts its way back to the second subject.
The third movement, Molto adagio con espressione, casts a post-Romantic glow that benefits from the low cello and the aerial trills in the violin part. Hungarian modal harmony infiltrates the extended melodic line, which breathes a plaintive song for passing Romantic sensibility.
the Aviv Quarte…plays Dohnanyi with a natural felicity that recommends the disc as a source of bountiful returns. © 2012 Audiophile AuditionRead complete review
International Record Review, April 2012
I have played this disc quite a few times in the past several weeks, each time with growing appreciation and admiration of the composer’s achievements…The Aviv Quartet is to be most warmly congratulated on a truly notable achievement. I have been particularly taken by Dohnányi’s mastery in making the three movements not monotonal…and the subtleties of working of the material, the cross-references and the excellence of the string writing are deeply impressive.
…the four-movement First Quartet…is a finely written work…Once more, the Aviv Quartet is excellent in this work, and the recording quality is very good indeed, with genuine balance from the four instruments, each set naturally within acoustic.
This really fine and, in its way, important release has good booklet notes by my colleague Richard Whitehouse: the result is a successful issue in every way. This CD is a further demonstration of what the classical record business does best. © 2012 International Record Review
|Infodad.com, March 2012
The first quartet is highly expressive in late-Romantic style, with a very heartfelt slow movement. The third quartet is a more sophisticated work both structurally and harmonically. The melodies are pleasantly effective, and they percolate neatly among the instruments; and this three-movement work has an especially interesting central movement whose unusual tempo designation is Andante religioso con variazoni. This quartet also shows some awareness of the bypassing of tonality in which other composers were involved, although it can scarcely be deemed a forward-looking work in that regard. Both these chamber pieces show a sure sense of craftsmanship and an understanding of the needs of small-ensemble composition, and the disc as a whole…offers strong evidence of the value of looking beyond the standard repertoire and beyond the standard way of thinking about individual composers. © 2012 Infodad.comRead complete review
|ClassicalCDReview.com, February 2012
Naxos is to be congratulated, as ever, for digging out some interesting and neglected repertoire…it is certainly worth hearing on its own terms, and the Aviv…are certainly competent enough to fulfill the demands made on them by the composer and the label alike. © 2012 ClassicalCDReview.com
David's Review Corner, February 2012
As an educationalist and conductor, Ernő Dohnányi worked assiduously to help the careers of other musicians while paying little regard to his own compostions. He had come into the world when music was heading towards a crossroads, but he was to remain a traditionalist, who wanted to progress composition, and would play no part in the revolution that came with the Second Viennese School. It left him, and many other like-minded composers, stranded by a music establishment that grew increasingly remote from his music. The first String Quartet, from the young twenty-two year old, had its roots in Brahms and Mendelssohn, though the delightful second movement showed a composer who could offer the most charming melodic invention. The soulful slow movement moves to a bubbling final Vivace. Twenty-seven years and a world war separated this from the Second Quartet, but apart from the change to a three movement format, he was still writing in almost the same style. Its opening movement throws a few hurdles in the performer’s way, and in place of a scherzo comes a substantial theme and variations of almost an equal length. The short finale, by contrast is full of good fun. The Aviv Quartet, founded in Israel, have a strong international presence, their performances so technically assured both in terms of intonation and balance, while they have the feel for music of this era. Very highly recommended. © 2012 David’s Review Corner