Most of us only think of the great Antal Dorati as a conductor, but this prominent Hungarian came from a family of musicians and started the study of music at the age of five, learning the cello a couple of years later and composition lessons beginning at 12; this in spite of the fact that he had already written several works, including three operas with original libretti, all of which he considered to be immature effords.
His first composition teacher was Leo Weiner (1885-1960) who had a profound effect on Dorati's musical taste and performing background. After a year with Weiner he became the pupil of Zoltan Kodaly (1882-1967) with whom he studied for the remainder of his school life.
At the age of 18, Dorati began work at the Budapest Opera House, first as a rehearser, then as a conductor for opera and ballet productions and finally to his preeminent career on the symphonic concert stage. Concert work put a crimp in his composing for about 20 years but in the mid-'50s the creative impulse returned in energy sufficient to produce on major work each year for many years thereafter.
The Concerto for Piano and Orchestra took five years of planning but was written during the summer of 1974 for Ilse Von Alpenheim, Dorati's wife, also from a very musical family. She world-premiered it -- a richly tonal work, centered around the key of D -- at Kennedy Center in the fall of 1975. Dorati makes no apology for being a tonalist, in fact (like many tonalists) he seems in his notes to be almost defensive about tonalism in what he perceives to be an era of atonalism or worse. The work is in a straightforward three-movement form. The first movement is in sonata form, featuring three groups of musical ideas subjected to various rearrangements, a recapitulation and cadenza finale. The most interesting slow movement uses a set of quiet variations on the central theme followed by a dramatic, jagged middle section with it's own development section, and a return to the quiet theme over muffled drums. The fast final movement is a complex rondo with intermittent recurrences of the main subject, a relazed "trio" section, a return of themes from all three movements in a suspended, introspective moment, finished off by a stormy "stretto" conclusion.
The Concerto was recorded in April of 1976 (by Ilse Von Alpenheim) in the concert hall of Kennedy Center. It was released on a Vox/Turnabout LP in August of the same year. The album also presented Von Alpenheim's performance of Dorati's Variations on a Theme of Bartok, a difficult work based on the "Peasant Song" (No.15) of Bartok's Mikrokosmos.
Dorati's Symphony No. 1 (1972) and No. 2 (1988) are available on a BIS CD, as are two works for choir and orchestra, Jesus oder Barabbas? and Pater Noster, works written the year before, and the year of his death. ~ Philip Krumm