DOHNÁNYI Piano Works (Gülbadamova)
With a recent live recording of Dohnányi’s Second Piano Concerto (HD Klassik) also to her name, Russian-born Sofja Gülbadamova here offers a selection of his solo repertoire. A decade ago she would have had little competition, other than the composer’s own historic recordings. However, now that Martin Roscoe has almost finished his survey of all the solo works for Hyperion, with the final volume due next year, the prospects of her making an impression are a good deal slimmer.
Gülbadamova’s attractive selection is mainly from the composer’s early and mid career around the turn of the century, omitting works of a more nationalistic character from 1915 after his return to Hungary from Berlin (and thus missing out on the relatively well-known Ruralia hungarica). Echoes of Chopin, Brahms and Schumann abound, above all in Winterreigen (‘Winter Round Dances’), which starts with a quotation from Schumann’s Papillons. Here and in the Five Humoresques in the Form of a Suite, Gülbadamova’s playing is elegant and warm but somewhat distracting in its habitual rubato. Not that she lacks subtlety and musicality, and her voicing of textures can be imaginative and engaging. She eloquently conveys the blend of playfulness and emotion in the Op 2 Pieces, and her full-blooded, stirring interpretation of the Four Rhapsodies is a reminder of Dohnányi’s status as the greatest Hungarian pianist and (before the ascent of Bartók) composer since Liszt. However, in these more technically demanding pieces she tends to be over-eager to impress, while Roscoe’s more contained and atmospherically varied accounts reveal the music’s narrative and emotional power to greater effect. Such miniatures as the 1898 Gavotte and Musette also emerge more naturally in Roscoe’s less interventionist hands.
The only late opus in Gülbadamova’s programme is the Six Piano Pieces, Op 41, composed in 1945, in which year the composer’s son, Hans, a member of the German resistance and rescuer of Jews, would be executed by the Nazis, reportedly hanged by piano wire. Ironically, Dohnányi himself, in the years following the war, would be accused of war crimes; and, although he was exonerated, his reputation still suffers from those smear campaigns. The Six Piano Pieces can be heard on ‘Dohnányi plays Dohnányi: The Complete HMV Solo Piano Recordings 1929-1956’, issued on APR in 2004, which provides a fascinating insight into the composer’s own performing style: marked by restraint and inner force. For all her evident devotion to the music, and Capriccio’s pleasing sound, Gülbadamova does not approach this level of idiomatic understanding. Her own CD booklet essay, although patently sincere, is by no means as informative as James Grymes’s for Hyperion.