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Dohnanyi: Symphony No. 2; Two Songs

Jones / Florida State University Symphony Orch
Release Date: 06/10/2014 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 573008   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Ernö von Dohnányi
Performer:  Evan Thomas Jones
Conductor:  Alexander Jiménez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florida State University Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Dohnányi’s Second Symphony was composed toward the end of the Second World War but its large canvas reflects not so much his wartime experience as his own artistic credo as a Romantic composer. Of the symphony and its philosophy he wrote: “The goal is the end of the glorious fight. The goal is death; life is a struggle”. This recording of the final revised version by the Florida State University Symphony Orchestra is quite appropriate because he taught there for ten years while he was living in the USA. The definitive score of the Second Symphony now resides at the Florida State University.

This seldom played symphony is a programme work for a large orchestra on the philosophy of mankind. It’s huge, running for just
Read more under the hour mark and it has its moments. The first movement opens dramatically with a theme on the strings that is taken up by the woodwinds. The scoring has the opulence of Richard Strauss but when the poignant second theme is announced on the cellos one is immediately in a sound-world closer to Korngold. Indeed the central material of the movement is reminiscent of film music and when the main theme returns on the brass the similarity to the tune from the film Back to the Future is uncanny. This movement is a melodious romp that finishes in spectacular fashion. The slow movement is pure love music with a cor anglais theme representing Eve in the Garden of Eden. This is highly perfumed music with a heart-warming, controlled passion. The strings sing out and take us into a world of romantic nostalgia. I’m afraid to say that my enthusiasm for the opening movements doesn’t stretch to the third movement and the finale. The beautiful Adagio is followed by a most bizarre little Allegro that just doesn’t seem to fit into the overall symphonic scheme of the work. This is a four minute burst of circus music. It’s something that is more akin to the music you would encounter in the Jazz Suites of Shostakovich. Does it sound like the third movement of a romantic symphony? For me the answer is no. The finale is in three parts. First of all there is a set of five variations based on a quotation from Come, Sweet Death by J.S. Bach. This is followed by a lengthy triple fugue that demonstrates the composer’s high level of craftsmanship. The variations and fugue are both musically interesting but they do not successfully fuse into a satisfying structure. The fugue is interrupted by a side drum and the final coda brings back the very opening theme of the symphony and the ending is dramatic, Korngold-like but somehow unsatisfying. It’s all a bit hollow. This is to my ears a symphony of two halves. Others may feel differently about it.

The orchestra plays well throughout and does justice to the symphony. Strings are sweet but lightweight compared to the top professional bands and maybe the horns and trumpets could have come out more. The recording is opulent and spacious.

The two songs, without being especially original, are worthy additions to the catalogue. Gott, with its memorable rising and falling theme, takes us back into Richard Strauss territory. The climax of the song to the word “Gott” introduces a telling use of hymn-like chords before the rising and falling motif returns. Sonnensehnsucht could have been written by Wagner. In a mood of sinister darkness, new themes are introduced over the six minute span of the song and the mood is finally lightened when heroic fanfares announce the rising of the sun. These two songs, beautifully sung by Evan Thomas Jones, are dramatic and uplifting.

This CD isn’t a complete success musically but when it’s good it’s very good indeed. Lovers of lush romanticism will be more than happy to come across it.

– John Whitmore, MusicWeb International Read less

Works on This Recording

1.
Symphony no 2 in E major, Op. 40 by Ernö von Dohnányi
Conductor:  Alexander Jiménez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florida State University Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944/1956; Hungary 
2.
Songs (3), Op. 22: no 1, Gott by Ernö von Dohnányi
Performer:  Evan Thomas Jones (Baritone)
Conductor:  Alexander Jiménez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florida State University Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912 
3.
Songs (3), Op. 22: no 2, Sonnensehnsucht by Ernö von Dohnányi
Performer:  Evan Thomas Jones (Baritone)
Conductor:  Alexander Jiménez
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Florida State University Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1912 

Sound Samples

Symphony No. 2 in E Major, Op. 40: I. Allegro con brio, ma energico e appassionato
Symphony No. 2 in E Major, Op. 40: II. Adagio pastorale, molto con sentimento
Symphony No. 2 in E Major, Op. 40: III. Burla: Allegro
Symphony No. 2 in E Major, Op. 40: IV. Introduzione, variazione con fuga sopra un corale di J.S. Bach, e coda
3 Songs, Op. 22: No. 1. Gott (God)
3 Songs, Op. 22: No. 2. Sonnensehnsucht (Longing for the Sun)

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  2 Customer Reviews )
 Dohnanyi from Tallahassee August 29, 2014 By Dean Frey See All My Reviews "Before coming across this disc I knew Florida State University as the American home of the great physicist Paul Dirac, who spent the last decade of his life in Tallahassee. Now I know that FSU attracted another world-class talent, the composer Erno Dohnanyi, who spent his last decade there, as composer-in-residence until 1960. Oh yes, I just remembered something else I know about FSU: the Seminoles beat the Auburn Tigers for the National NCAA Men’s Football Championship last January. This disc has home-field advantage: it features the Florida State University Orchestra under conductor Alexander Jimenez. The symphony is in the full- if not over-blown Romantic idiom of the mid-19th Century. Its themes are lofty and its architecture is grandiose, though the construction is careful. Indeed, the composer completely overhauled the work in the mid-50s, reining it in from an hour to only 50 minutes. It all seems exceptionally well-argued, if at times a bit bland. That’s not to say there aren’t felicitous bits; I loved Dohnanyi’s presentation of the Bach theme he uses for his final movement variations. And the mocking Burla third-movement is often a lot of fun. As to interpretation and orchestral playing, this disc comes a close second to the mid-1990s Chandos disc with the BBC Philharmonic under Matthias Bamert. The Chandos disc has a more substantial filler in the marvellous Symphonic Minutes, though the Naxos disc’s Two Songs are lovely, and baritone Evan Thomas Jones is excellent. The sound in both discs is excellent. I wonder if Naxos will record the first Symphony with the FSU Orchestra & Jimenez, to go up against another excellent Chandos/BBC/Bamert disc." Report Abuse
 Committed performances of under-performed works July 2, 2014 By Ralph Graves (Hood, VA) See All My Reviews "This is a Florida State University project from start to finish, and that makes perfect sense. Ernö Dohnányi finished his career on the faculty of FSU, and conducted the FSU Symphony Orchestra (albeit a half century before they made this recording). The performing editions for the Symphony No.2 and the Two songs were prepared from manuscripts in FSU's Dohnányi collection, by one of the leading authorities on Dohnányi who received his doctorate at -- FSU. The ensemble, and conductor, Alexander Jimenez come to the music with not only a deep understanding of the music, but something of a personal connection to the composer as well. And for the most part, that holds them in good stead. Two Songs, Op. 22, written in 1922 features lush, post-romantic harmonies, similar to those in the orchestral songs of Richard Strauss or Alexander Zemlinsky. Unfortunately, the booklet doesn't include the song texts for these world premier recordings, but Naxos makes them available online. Wilhelm Conrad Gomoll's poetry provided the dramatic framework for the work, and the words are effectively illuminated by Dohnányi's music. As a pure listening experience, the songs are thrilling. Baritone Evan thomas Jones sings expressively, and sometimes with gravitas. The FSU ensemble performs with a supple responsiveness that adds to the beauty of the work. Dohnányi's massive Symphony No. 2 was completed in 1945, and revised in 1957. The revision (heard here), tightened the structure, and made Dohnányi's vision of conflict and hope more focused in the process. Dohnányi never abandoned tonality, but the textures are more austere than those of the Two Songs. Nevertheless, the work is quite lyrical throughout, especially in the second movement. The FSU Symphony Orchestra is an amazingly talented student ensemble, with only a few slips to betray their lack of professional experience. Some of the string attacks sounded a little soft to me, and occasionally soloists seemed a little weak in exposed passages. Still, Maestro Jimenez and the FSU Symphony Orchestra deliver committed and authoritative performances of these works. And in the process they do a great service to further the reputation of their former professor." Report Abuse
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