If there's anything you can say about the music of Ernst von Dohnányi, it's that it is always well-made, tuneful and charming. To quote Balint Voszonyi's article about Dohnányi in The New Grove, the composer had 'an unerring mastery of form and instrumentation, fluency, and a rich but utterly natural sense of harmony.' That description fits the music on this disc right through the last track. Some of it is not deathless--the 'American Rhapsody' is probably only a step above pops concert music (and great fun, with its quotations from American folksongs -- 'On Top of Old Smoky' figures prominently). The 'Wedding Waltz' from 'The Veil of Pierrette' is more of the same sort of thing, and completely luscious. But the three other works are more than just charming, they are simply beautiful.
The big work here is the Second Violin Concerto, a four-movement work, that is in the tradition of the big Romantic concerti. It starts with a rather biting first section but soon grows into a full-fledged Brahmsian-cum-Korngold work that overflows with invention, great melodies, expert counterpoint and orchestration. There are many reminiscences of Hungarian folk music. Its dramatic arc is satisfying in the extreme. There is much opportunity for virtuosic display by the soloist including numerous cadenzas. The violinist here is the concertmaster of the English Sinfonia, Janice Graham, and she plays with big tone and considerable brio without abandoning her basically lyrical sound. One wonders why this concerto isn't heard more often.
The pastoral Harp Concertino is a one-movement work that was written about the same time as the Second Violin Concerto, in the late 1940s after Dohnányi had moved to the United States. Its form is lapidary and the solo part is expertly and idiomatically written. Harpist Lucy Wakefield makes real music of the her virtuosic part. The other work on this program is an orchestration by Dmitry Sitkovetsky of the 'Romanza' from Dohnányi's 'Serenade in C, Op. 10,' an early string trio that some (including this writer) feel is one of Dohn'nyi's masterpieces. The orchestration for string orchestra is expert but I have to say that I prefer the thinner texture of the string trio version. Still, the music itself is hauntingly beautiful and could probably even sound good played by a mandolin band.
Dohnányi is receiving increasing attention in these days of expanding recorded repertoire and greater interest in our Romantic music heritage. I'm all for that. This recording is very welcome indeed.