Valentina Tóth Tackles “Ruralia Hungarica”

Dohnanyi

DOHNÁNYI: Ruralia Hungarica. Humoresken in Form einer Suite. Pastorale on a Hungarian Christmas Song / Valentina Tóth, pno / Challenge Classics CC72775

Though mostly a 20th-century composer, Ernö Dohnányi was very much a retro-Romantic composer. My regular readers know that, for the most part, I am allergic to Romantic music, but I’ve always found Dohnányi’s pieces very charming when taken in small doses.

Most of the Ruralia Hungarica is quite good because Dohnányi based it on Hungarian folk music, eagerly poring over the large collection of Hungarian and Transylvanian tunes recently published by Bartók and Kodály. Interestingly, Valentina Tóth gives this music a swagger not unlike jazz music, particularly in “Presto, ma non tanto” that I’ve never quite heard before. Like so many modern pianists, she has technique to burn and plays with a straightahead, no-holds-barred style that does not brook lingering or rubato touches. Some listeners might miss these in this recital, but I, for one, find it a breath of fresh air. Certainly the surviving recordings of Bartók’s and Kodály’s music played or conducted by the composers clearly eschew rubato or rallentando effects. It is NOT the Hungarian style to do so, and in the “Andante poco moto, rubato” Tóth gives us just enough of the former to make the music expressive without making it sentimental or mawkish. She also achieves a nice “floating” sound on the piano, not unlike the effects that Alfred Cortot could create at the keyboard.

Immediately following, Tóth attacks the “Vivace” as if it were a relentless, driving piece, which for the most part it is, pulling back very slightly for the softer passages. The “Allegro giocoso” is quite playful, the “Adagio non troppo” moody and smoldering.

The much earlier Humoresque in the Form of a Suite (1907) has less harmonic interest than the Ruralia Hungarica, but is a nice, solidly-written piece—nothing to write home about, mind you, but I wouldn’t walk out on it if it were given at a concert. The second movement “Toccata” and final “Introduction and Fugue” are the most interesting pieces in the suite, at least to me. The remainder of the suite sounds a bit too much like Victorian-era pop music for my taste. The concluding Pastorale on a Hungarian Christmas Song is, again, pleasant but unremarkable.

Overall, however, I enjoyed Tóth’s playing very much. When the music called for something extra, she had it to give. A fine recital.

—© 2018 Lynn René Bayley

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