ESSENTIAL RECORDINGS
Ernö von Dohnányi - Symphony No. 2


ERNÖ VON DOHNANYI - Symphony No. 2 - Two Songs - Florida State University Orchestra - Alexander Jiménez (Conductor) - 747313300877 - Released: June 2014 - Naxos 8.573008

Despite the fact that I've collected and listened to music all my life, including the many years that I worked in classical music retail where I had the luxury of being able to listen to anything at all for 8 hours a day, I have not heard (or at least sampled) everything there is out there. It would take more than one lifetime to listen to, and appreciate, every piece of music by every composer. Some of that shortcoming is by choice of course, especially when you get tangled up researching one composer or another, at the omission of everything else, but most of it is simply for lack of time or plain old oversight. Such is the case with Hungarian composer Ernö von Dohnányi (1877-1960). An oversight which, now that I've experienced this new Naxos recording of his gripping Symphony No. 2 in E major, Op. 40, was definitely a mistake on my part.

After a brief but imposing introduction in orchestral unison, all the various threads based on the opening three notes take on lives of their own, and Dohnányi flexes his musical muscle by crafting a symphonic development in the first movement worthy of an artisan. The second movement Adagio pastorale could easily stand head to head with some of the best slow movements by any of the major composers, as it wafts its way into your mind and lingers there. On the other hand, the following Burla (Mockery) presents a man with a biting sense of humour, having fun at everyone's expense, in particular the poor musicians that have to perform some rather nimble manoeuvres to make it to the end. The final movement, of which the main idea is based on Bach's "Come, Sweet Death" returns to bring all the threads together and cap the whole work with an uplifting finish. Dohnányi described the main idea behind the symphony as based on a philosophical statement by Imre Madach that says: "The goal is the end of the glorious fight. The goal is death; life is a struggle."

While living in the United States, Dohnányi taught for ten years at the Florida State University, so it's rather fitting to hear the Florida State University Orchestra perform what was to be his final symphony in this recording. They would certainly do him proud if he was still alive. Besides a few minutes in the middle of the fourth movement, where it seems the momentum, especially in the strings, tends to sag slightly, the performance as a whole fully supports the work's trajectory, the symphonic ideal, which to me is: "the goal is the fight to the glorious end".

Jean-Yves Duperron - July 2014