DOHNÁNYI:  Suite, Op. 19.  Variations on a Nursery Theme, Op. 25.  The Veil of Pierrette, Op. 18 (Pierrot's Love-lament.  Waltz-rondo. Merry Funeral March.  Wedding Waltz).
Howard Shelley, pianist/BBC Philharmonic/Matthias Bamert, cond.

CHANDOS 9733 (F) (DDD) TT:  69:52

This fine CD is highlighted by premiere recordings of excerpts (the first three listed above) from Dohnányi's score for The Veil of Pierrette, Op. 18, a "mimed entertainment" composed in 1908-9 based on work by Viennese dramatist and novelist Arthur Schnitzler premiered the following year.  Four published excerpts form a suite beginning with the prelude and "a tearful theme from the depths." The second movement is a mild parody of a Strauss waltz, the third, "Merry Funeral March," seems to poke fun at Mahler, and the fourth is the familiar "Wedding Waltz" recorded on 78s by George Weldon and Hermann Abendroth, later on LP by Antal Dorati with the Philharmonia Hungarica (Mercury 90190) issued on CD as well (434 338).

Suite in F# Minor, Op. 19 was written about the same time and was rather popular during the first part of the century; Frederick Stock recorded it with the Chicago Symphony for Victor in 1928.  In 1961 EMI made a superb recording with Sir Malcolm Sargent and the Royal Philharmonic (issued on CD 63183, coupled with the Nursery variations with the composer as soloist). This is a delectable work in four movements the first of which is a theme with six imaginative variations.  A charming Scherzo follows, then an exquisite Romanza.  The final Rondo is marked by ever-changing chromatic harmonies.  Just before the conclusion there is an exquisite interlude similar to the episode before the ending of Glazunov's The Seasons.

Variations on a Nursery Theme (or "Song" as it is called on the composer's own EMI recording with Sir Adrian Boult/RPO), composed about five years after the other two works, is much better known. The theme is "Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman" (Twinkle, twinkle, little star) treated to a wide range of variations "for the enjoyment of humorous people and the annoyance of others" according to Dohnányi. After a rather ominous Introduction we hear whimsical treatment of marches and waltzes -- plus a grandiose, disturbing passacaglia which reaches an agonizing climax quite far removed from the simple theme.  After this score returns to the overall humorous mood. 

Performances are excellent, almost too proficient. Bamert misses some of the sparkle in these scores; the performances, though beautiful indeed, are rather heartless. Bamert's performance of the Suite is about three minutes faster than Sargent's.  Howard Shelley is in fine form in Variations although I would not want to be without Earl Wild's brilliant 1967 recording with the New Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by the composer's grandson, Christoph then just at the beginning of his illustrious career.  This was recorded for the Reader's Digest and currently is available on Chesky (CD 13).

Beautiful sound throughout from Chandos' engineers.  Highly recommended.

R.E.B. (Aug. 2002)