Ernő Dohnányi (1877-1960)

Saturday, June 3, 2023

Orchestra Hall, Max M. & Marjorie S. Fisher Music Center, Woodward Avenue, Detroit, Michigan

Giuseppe Martucci”s Notturno (Opus 70/1) opened, sultry, private and gently wafting music, flowering expressively, played with sensitivity. Following the interval, Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, not the most fateful of performances, tame brass to begin, tempos somewhat staid, emotions kept at bay (increasing later albeit only via dominant trumpets) if structurally sound and with the first movement’s balletic sections adorned by characterful woodwinds. The middle movements fared better, the slowish one led by Alex Kinmonth’s shapely oboe solo, the music’s innocence turning to a darker side come the close, riposted by the pizzicato third, admirably unanimous if too fleet for elegance or wit, and the Finale zoomed by, exciting and brilliantly virtuosic, if, and not for the first time, Jader Bignamini was rather attention-seeking on behalf of dynamics. However, if previous passions have been played down, then such festivities can seem overdone, even hollow, as was the case here.

In between, Ernö Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song, deceptively dramatic to begin with – until the pianist enters with a fondly remembered singalong melody and the composer’s imagination runs riot, as say Rachmaninov’s does in Paganini Rhapsody, a feast of colour and popular styles fused by the twinkling tune. Isata Kanneh-Mason, who has recently recorded the work for Decca, and in Detroit offered a George Gershwin Prelude as an encore, gave a scintillating account of the Dohnányi, ingenious and enjoyable music that easily wins friends and keeps them, with much for the orchestra (including two timpanists) to do, deftly accomplished by the DSO.