Wednesday, July 9, 2014

FSU Symphony Orchestra revive Dohnanyi works

Ernö Dohnányi
Symphony No. 2; Two Songs, Op. 22
Evan Thomas Jones; baritone
Florida State University Symphony Orchestra
Alexander Jimenez, conductor

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.

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