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DOHNANYI, E.: Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2

Naxos 8.570833

   MusicWeb International, November 2008
   Fanfare, September 2008
   Fanfare, September 2008
   Gramophone, September 2008
   The Classical Music Network, August 2008
   MusicWeb International, August 2008
   Limelight, August 2008
   The Virginian-Pilot, August 2008, July 2008
   The Dallas Morning News, July 2008
   Music & Vision, June 2008
   Atlanta Audio Society, June 2008
   The WholeNote, June 2008
   MusicWeb International, June 2008
   Classical Lost and Found, May 2008
   Audiophile Audition, May 2008, May 2008
   The Buffalo News, May 2008, May 2008
   David's Review Corner, April 2008

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Derek Warby
MusicWeb International, November 2008

This CD introduces a new name to me—the soloist Michael Ludwig. He seems to be quite a find. His sound isn’t the largest or most robust but his playing is musicianly and very secure. He is superbly accompanied by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra conducted by one of the leading female conductors, the American JoAnn Falletta. The warm and spacious sound of Glasgow’s Henry Wood Hall will be well known to Naxos collectors and the recording is as good as one could wish, making this disc an invaluable one for lovers of Romantic and post-Romantic violin concertos.

Jerry Dubins
Fanfare, September 2008

Between the eruptions of volcanic pyrotechnics [in Dohnányi's  D-Minor Concerto] are moments of soaring lyrical beauty to melt the heart.

I'm embarrassed to admit that this was my first encounter with the D-Minor Concerto, and I was absolutely bowled over by it. …I'm hard-pressed to think of another violin concerto this one resembles. … Dohnányi's D-Minor Concerto is unique and uniquely beautiful. …This is violin-playing that has to be heard to be believed.

…Like its older sibling, the C-Minor is a large and lengthy work in four movements and spanning nearly 31 minutes. …Ludwig is even more vibrant-toned and alive to Dohnányi's score [than other performers] ; and Falletta, the Royal Philharmonic, and Naxos's recording are even better than [other recordings].

This is a fantastic release that is sure to be at the top of my 2008 Want List. Snap this one up immediately.

Richard A. Kaplan
Fanfare, September 2008

I truly can't understand why much of the music of Ernő Dohnányi remains outside the international mainstream repertoire: it is melodious; harmonically lush, with a distinctly post-Brahmsian flavor seasoned, if you will, with a dash of paprika; gloriously orchestrated; often delightfully tongue-in-cheek; and superbly crafted. …The First Violin Concerto (1915) offers a splendid example of Dohnányi at the height of his powers. A four-movement work composed in 1915 on the scale of the Beethoven and Brahms concertos (who else, other than Elgar, had written a 40-minute violin concerto?), it features all the hallmarks of Dohnányi's major works: big tunes, a witty and technically formidable Scherzo as well as a ravishing slow movement, and, in the finale, the use of variation form and the composer's predilection for cyclic organization; it is also a technical tour de force for the soloist. Its Scherzo calls for every trick in the book, and the finale is a set of variations on a theme that is unmistakably a homage to the Brahms First Symphony. The Second Concerto (1949) is one of the strongest of Dohnányi's late works; its second movement, subtitled "Intermezzo," is a brilliantly biting scherzo. although the finale is little more than competent note spinning.

This disc is my first encounter with the playing of violinist Michael Ludwig, and he has the requisite chops to handle Dohnányi's demanding solo parts comfortably, if not effortlessly. … anyone seriously interested in the violin or in post-Romantic music should have at least one version of each of these concertos.

Rob Cowan
Gramophone, September 2008

A romantic revisiting…where moments of great originality lift the music

Fascinating to hear these two works one after the other, the First Concerto (1915) representing the naively romantic world that the Second (1946) revisits so poignantly, and so knowingly. The First Concerto employs the harmonic language of Wagner and Strauss in combination with rich Brahmsian textures, its most memorable moment being the harp-accompanied melody in the Andante second movement. Both concertos are sizeable four-movement structures, but the First is the less disciplined of the two by far with a l4-minute finale that incorporates both a Brahmsian-style chorale theme and a Mendelssohnian use of arpeggios.

Turn to the better-known Second Concerto and you'll encounter leaner textures, stronger themes and a more rigorous structure. There are moments of great originality too, such as the passage towards the end of the Intermezzo where the soloist plays harmonics against glissando trombones and then the finale's horn-accompanied cadenza. The sombre (and extremely beautiful) Adagio is a sorrowful song indeed, an elegy that seems to reflect both historical and personal tragedy. Dohnányi would never fully shake off the stigma of moving from Hungary to Austria in the last years of the Second World War, even though he personally opposed so much of what was happening in Nazi-occupied territories.

Competition includes a fine version of the Second with James Ehnes (Chandos) but there is no currently listed version of the First. Michael Ludwig plays with abundant feeling and JoAnn Falletta directs wholly sympathetic accounts of the two orchestral scores.

A satisfying and educative release, one that I would strongly recommend.

Harry Rolnick
The Classical Music Network, August 2008

The second violin concerto, which has been recorded several times, hardly fits into any category. At first, you think of Brahms, but the melodies are a bit too sweet. Then Max Bruch, but hardly as saccharine. The concerto is “well-made”, like so many late 19th Century virtuoso works, but this was md-20th-century. What we do find, under Mr. Ludwig, is a piece of late romanticism, which begins with a cadenza, and continues with two or three more dazzling solos, along with the most lush soaring themes. The following movement, less than four movements long, is a bumptious romp. (The double-stopping centre is close to a Brahms Hungarian dance, but hardly Hungarian.) The last two movements bear all the tricks of the well-trained composer, including several delightful cadenzas.

That work, written in Florida, is supposedly more “mature”. But give me the first concerto, written in 1915! The atmosphere is more mysterious, the tunes a bit stranger, the orchestral atmosphere a bit swampy, almost cinematic. Of course “movie music” wasn’t composed until 18 years later, so the atmosphere starts with true originality. By the time of the finale, one feels again that this is merely a well-constructed work, working in various fugues and canons. Dohanányi, though, does have a wonderful way with solo orchestra instruments, and his little obbligati for winds give it as much color as the violin itself. To me, the most stunning part of the whole disk is a cadenza at the end of this concerto accompanied first by solo French and then an orchestral fugato as Mr. Ludwig plays above it. Michael Ludwig is no ordinary soloist. Now First Chair with the Buffalo Symphony Orchestra, he has managed to fit in concertos with the Chicago and Philadelphia orchestra, with recitals around the world and several recordings. I have never heard him live, but he is obviously not afraid to take chances with his repertory. Nor does he stint on his playing, which is broad, bravura when necessary, and with a grand sweep. His virtuosity is evident in both works here.

The Royal Scottish Orchestra well deserves its sobriquet, with soaring horn calls, a classic trumpet solo in the second concerto, some liquid winds, and, under JoAnn Falletta, a conductor who gives as much verve to her orchestra as her soloist gives to the music.

The recording by Naxos is well focused, and the program notes by Keith Anderson—Naxos’ very first annotator—are, as always, informative and detailed. Not that the music needs such detail. It is as accessible as Bruch, as rich at times as Brahms, and has enough fireworks to inspire both soloist and audience.

William Kreindler
MusicWeb International, August 2008

The First Concerto imitates the four movement pattern of the Brahms second piano concerto, although comparisons between the two composers are frequently overdone. Its slightly mysterious opening ably utilizes the mysterious capabilities of the D-minor key. Michael Ludwig is sterling in the opening cadenza and his backed up by an excellent recording. … The last movement…features some of Ludwig’s best playing. He is also excellent in the exposition of the new movement’s primary theme, which is then put through a series of variations. Finally the opening movement material returns for even more lovely development and a virtuoso finale. …These concertos have been recorded before but still deserve to be better known than they are; both can be rated outstanding. In terms of his performance Michael Ludwig hits all the required emotional stops as well as showing almost unremitting virtuosity in two long and very difficult works. JoAnn Falletta follows him all the way and demonstrates again that she is at home in any repertoire. She also elicits fine playing from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, indeed better even than their usual high standard. I have heard several recordings made in the Henry Wood Hall recently and this one has only confirmed my positive impression of this hall as a recording venue. Music that it is essential to obtain…

Ken Page
Limelight, August 2008

Seventy-odd minutes of virtuosic violin, Hungarian style, packaged into two concertos mined from the richest of 20th century classico-romantic veins. But wait a moment. Dohnányi is a different kettle of fish from compatriots whose work is better known. These pieces stand or fall on their merits as expressions of their composer’s musical expertise, not on his ability to paint musical pictures. The violin is to the fore throughout, demanding stamina as well as frequent virtuosity. Ludwig is up to the task, which is all to the good, as he has little opportunity to go off daydreaming once those 70 minutes begin. Active playing is required. Active listening, too. Dohnányi’s fans are most likely to be people who don’t mind making some effort to immerse themselves in his work, rather than casual listeners who expect to be spoon-fed with their entertainment. He is unlikely to features in any of the 100-most-popular tomfoolery. “Hurrah! High fives for Dohnány!” cry those who are prepared to make the effort.

Paul Sayegh
The Virginian-Pilot, August 2008

Falletta, the Virginia Symphony Orchestra’s music director, revels in this late-Romantic sound world, skillfully supporting her soloist while maintaining a strong hold on musical structure. Ludwig is simply spectacular, playing with absolute security, gorgeous tone and a feel for the music that suggest he has fully absorbed it.

The music is sure to appeal to anyone who has a taste for Brahms, with a healthy sprinkling of Wagner and early Richard Strauss thrown in. It is lushly orchestrated and richly melodic in a way that makes you want to keep listening.

A disc to be enjoyed again and again.

Robert R. Reilly, July 2008

More late-Romantic 20th century concertos come from Naxos. The immensely attractive Violin Concertos Nos. 1 and 2, by Hungarian composer Erno von Dohnanyi (1877-1960), are available on a new Naxos CD (8.570833) with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, violinist Michael Ludwig, under conductor JoAnn Falletta. These are sumptuous, colorful works.

Lawson Taitte
The Dallas Morning News, July 2008

TERRIFIC DISCOVERIES: It seems there's no end to first-rate 20th-century violin concertos. These two by Ernst von Dohnányi, rarely recorded, are attractive enough to enter the mainstream repertoire. The first, written in 1915, when the composer was in his late 20s, opens mysteriously and soon turns lush. It might remind you of Borodin, as filtered through the sensibilities of someone acquainted with Richard Strauss' more exotic harmonies. The second, from more than 30 years later, is a bit spikier, but poses no problems for anybody sympathetic to Dohnányi's fellow Hungarian, Bartók. The soloist plays in double stops for long periods, and much of the lyric charm comes from assertive brass and wind obbligatos.

FINE PERFORMANCES: JoAnn Falletta's career is building so quickly that no one is going to be thinking of her as "that other American woman conductor" (along with Marin Alsop). Under her leadership, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is at the top of its game. Violinist Michael Ludwig, another American, is obviously not as famous as he should be. His playing is alternately brilliant and enchanting.

BOTTOM LINE: You owe it to yourself to give these a listen.

Robert Anderson
Music & Vision, June 2008

It is not only under its present egregious president that the USA has taken leave of its senses. In 1940 Charlie Chaplin launched one of film's finest productions, brilliantly lampooning Adolf Hitler in The Great Dictator; his reward was exile from America in 1952. Dohnányi, pianist and composer of outstanding gifts, welcomed as a worthy scion of the Classical tradition by Brahms, Joachim and Donald Tovey, became a refugee to the New World after the Second World War. He had lost a son apprehended in an abortive plot against Hitler; but in the States he was subjected to a malicious whispering campaign that for long wrecked his chances of a successful new career.

While saluting music's path-breakers, one is equally grateful to those building constructively on the past. In the fulness of time a Bach and Brahms achieve Classic status. So it will be with Dohnányi, whose lifetime's work fell under the shadow of Bartók and Kodály (he promoted both of them unstintingly), and even if his opus numbers total less than fifty spread over more than sixty years. Born in what is now Bratislava, as musical a city as any in Europe and for some time the Hungarian capital, he came under the influence of the Cathedral organist, and doubtless wondered as a boy at the towering statue of St Martin dividing his cloak with the beggar that previously backed the high altar.

Both violin concertos have four movements, the First dating from 1915. The opening theme betrays its wartime origin, sombre in its tragic implications. But the essential lyricism of the solo instrument soon takes over before returning to the mood of the start.

The Brahmsian variations of the leisurely finale are cunningly prepared by the sardonic Scherzo.

In the Second Concerto (1949), the fine slow movement forms the work's emotional core. It is preceded by an Intermezzo that recalls the wit of the Nursery Variations. The finale has some of the brashness Dohnányi doubtless associated with his adopted land.

Michael Ludwig is a fine advocate for the two concertos, having total technical command as also a relaxed approach to the winding cantilena that Dohnányi so deftly spins for the soloist. It is a very impressive performance. It is clear that JoAnn Falletta, doughty champion of many American novelties, has admirable understanding of Dohnányi's late-Romantic idiom, allowing the music all the breathing-space it needs but underlining, too, its latent humour. The Royal Scottish National Orchestra is on splendid form, with many a telling solo line, and worthy corporate response to a composer Naxos is rightly championing.

Phil Muse
Atlanta Audio Society, June 2008

The opening Allegro molto maestoso has a mood of gentle melancholy, while the scherzo has a definite Gypsy flavor with avid commentary from the brass. The slow movement, Adagio molto sostenuto, is as the marking implies, relaxed and sustained. The finale, marked Allegro risoluto e giocoso, is livelier, with a remarkably beautiful melody for the horn introducing and accompanying the main theme for the violin.

Terry Robbins
The WholeNote, June 2008

I must admit—somewhat shamefully—to not knowing that Dohnányi wrote any violin concertos, let alone two, and—even more shamefully—to not knowing Michael Ludwig; how anybody could not be aware of a player of this world-class quality is baffling. Ludwig is the Concertmaster, and JoAnn Falletta the Music Director, of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and they clearly work well together. The first concerto dates from 1915, and is in the German Romantic tradition of Brahms and Bruch, while the second, from 1949 when Dohnányi had moved to the US, is closer to Barber and Korngold in style. Ludwig and the RSNO are superb throughout, and the recording quality is outstanding. Another ‘must buy’ disc!

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, June 2008

…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.

Bob McQuiston
Classical Lost and Found, May 2008


Superb performances, magnificent sound and Naxos’ low bill of fare make a strong case for these romantic gems from the pen of Hungarian composer Ernö von Dohnányi (1877–1960). …Violinist Michael Ludwig really seems to be enjoying himself here, delivering virtuoso as well as highly musical readings of both concertos. The orchestral support provided by conductor JoAnn Falletta and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra is outstanding. Consequently most would probably agree these are the best performances of both works currently available. The recorded sound is exceptional with a perfectly laid out soundstage in an ideal venue. And the balance between soloist and orchestra is right on the money. Those with sound systems that favor the high end may experience a slight feeling of cumulative brightness, but not to the point where it becomes oppressive. Generally speaking, most audiophiles will find this an exceptional disc.

Steven Ritter
Audiophile Audition, May 2008

A convenient coupling of worthy entries

Ernst von Dohananyi was a man who spent his war years in Fascist Hungary, lost both sons in that same war (II), had many students of illustrious note (Georg Solti among them), moved finally to Florida where he taught and was beloved of the community of Florida State University, performed there last, wrote his last piece there, and died in New York City of pneumonia in 1960 while on a recording trip. He is not a nationalist, unlike his famous compatriots Bartok and Kodaly; but his music reeks of romantic affection, and it must be Brahms to whom we turn in order to get a real sense of the composer’s roots.

It is a fine thing to have his two Violin Concertos on this one disc, played as well as they are by Michael Ludwig, and accompanied to excellent effect by one of my favorite conductors, JoAnn Falletta. Only a Hungaroton reading by Vilmos Szabady offers a current match of this disc (the first concerto being often neglected), and there are only about five altogether. I find it convenient to have both on one disc, and at this price and performance level there is not much you can say against it. The first concerto is much more heart on sleeve and romantic, very attractive, yet one can see why it fades a little in the presence of his second, done 35 years later, and among the composer’s mature masterworks. This work is richly rewarding in anyone’s book, teasingly romantic yet still with a foot in the modern world, and much more creatively structured that the first. Nevertheless, I do not want to short-shrift the first, for it is immensely enjoyable.

Dohnanyi has much to offer that is not accepted for the most part, and this release gives us a chance to painlessly sample the talents of a fine composer, and in the end, native son.

Victor Carr Jr, May 2008

The opening theme of Ernö Dohnányi's Violin Concerto No. 1 (1915) sounds strikingly like something out of a Harry Potter film, creating the same kind of minor-key-mysterious atmosphere--that is until the solo violin enters with its agitated pronouncements. Often it sounds as if the violin were not at all pleased with this introductory mood and does its best to dispel it. But then the soothing second theme steals in, and the violin is at least temporarily calmed. Dohnányi's solo writing is stunning in its originality and virtuosity, yet violinist Michael Ludwig presents it with confidence, poise, and polish. The serene Andante ushers in a beguiling tranquil mood before the lively scherzo dances about. Dohnányi's theme and variations finale blatantly borrows from the same movement in Brahms' Symphony No. 1, but happily, Dohnányi's less pretentious finale is a lot more fun, even with the return of the first movement's darker theme.

Violin Concerto No. 2 was completed more than three decades later in 1949, and right away the change in the composer's harmonic language shows in the dissonant opening violin cadenza. But far from being atonal or modernist, Dohnányi's work continues the tradition of consonant tonality, albeit a little stretched at the edges. This gives the music great expressive range, and the first movement surges with drama and emotion. As with the First concerto, this one also is in four movements, though they fit within the usual concerto duration (about 30 minutes--10 minutes shorter than No. 1). A charming intermezzo comes second, followed by a lovely and lyrical Adagio. The buoyant allegro finale brings the work to a happy conclusion. Again the violin writing is superb (wonderfully rendered by Ludwig), as is the accompaniment, fleshed out in the composer's robust and colorful orchestration, and beautifully performed by JoAnn Falletta and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Naxos' spacious recording has satisfying bloom, presence, and wide dynamic range. These are excellent pieces that ought to be in the modern performance repertory. If you don't know these works, you owe to yourself to hear this disc.

Herman Trotter
The Buffalo News, May 2008

When it comes to unearthing buried treasures, JoAnn Falletta has a good track record. Here she has done it again. Erno Dohnanyi was a Hungarian composer (1877-1960) of deep Romantic persuasion whose music got swamped in the rising tide of 20th century innovation. With Romantic music now undergoing a revival, Falletta got Naxos to record these two absorbing concertos. Buffalo Philharmonic concertmaster Michael Ludwig is the soloist, and Falletta conducts the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.

Dohnanyi’s two violin concertos were written in 1915 and 1949 respectively, but both radiate the same reflective warmth and compelling lyricism. The wonderfully memorable, probing main theme of the Concerto No. 1 is typical of Dohnanyi’s forward-looking type of creativity, where both the individual movements and the concerto as a whole seem to be palpably taking the listener on a musical journey. A tenderly yearning slow movement and a crisp, ear-catching Scherzo lead to an expansive Finale that wraps things up convincingly with a closing reference to the concerto’s opening theme. Concerto No. 2 creates an equally rapt and lyrically absorbing sense of seeking a musical destination, but its timbres are darker. In both concertos, Dohnanyi shows a refreshing ability to conclude his musical discourses with satisfying, positive codas that avoid hackneyed repetition.

Ludwig’s approach to this music is consistently absorbing, supported by superb technique, finely nuanced phrasing, a full tonal palette and an unfailing sense for the expressively carved line. Falletta and the orchestra offer a partnership that glows with an equal commitment to these until-now overlooked concertos. Their recording easily surpasses a 1997 Hungaroton, the only previous CD of both concertos.

Mike Brownell, May 2008

The orchestration provides brilliant, swelling tuttis while always getting out of the way for the solo violin. Performing these two gems for the Naxos label are violinist Michael Ludwig and the sensational Royal Scottish National Orchestra under the baton of JoAnn Falletta. Ludwig’s playing encapsulates everything these concertos demand: a total command of technique capable of delivering virtuosic demands without making them seem like technical exercises; a sweet, honeyed sound across the range of the instrument; intuitive musical sensibilities; and a thorough academic understanding of the score. This album is absolutely worthy of a spot in any collection of violin concertos.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

A requirement for all who love romantic concertos

Erno Dohnanyi was one of the leading Hungarian composers of the 20th century, though he spent so much of his time championing the music of others, he allowed his own to drop from public recognition. His working life was given to a career as a brilliant concert pianist, outstanding conductor and the teacher of the great Hungarian musicians of the following generation. It left him with precious little time for composition, and on his death in 1960 his catalogue of works was small. Strangely the style of his music avoided all of the modern trends that he so strenuously promoted in others, not least in the enterprising music of Bartok and Kodaly. The two Violin Concertos were separated by thirty-four years, the First, completed in 1915, continuing where Brahms left off, the music clothed in the sumptuous style of Rachmaninov. Unusual in its use of a four-movement structure, it employs the format of a symphony by including a slow movement and a scherzo that come between weighty outer movements. The Second came after he arrived in the United States, having escaped from his native country at on the onset of Communism. Basically its style is little changed, though harmonically it is more adventurous, the well-padded sounds of the earlier concerto now thinned down. Do we detect an acquaintance with Prokofiev as the solo flies on high in the slow movement? That movement becomes unexpectedly animated as it leads without a break into a fast and hectic finale. The soloist is the American-born Michael Ludwig, a violinist of considerable brilliance, his warm tonal quality ideal for the music, with every note perfectly centred. He has the outstanding JoAnn Falletta conducting the Royal Scottish National in their very best form and all helped by a recording quality that gives a very natural balance between soloist and orchestra. Never previously coupled, this makes previous recordings totally superfluous. A requirement for all who love romantic concertos.

Naxos Records, a member of the Naxos Music Group