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Marcel FARAGO (b.1924)
Orchestral Works: Acousticon Op. 50 for Orchestra (1980) [11.10]; Terpsichore Op. 54 for large orchestra (1983) [9.32]; Divertimento Op. 18 for small orchestra (1957-8) [20.09]; Symphony, Freedom, Op. 61 for orchestra, narrator and speaking chorus Op. 61 (1991) [33.13]
Gershon C. Perry (narrator)
BBC Singers
Gyor Philharmonic Orchestra/Gergely Kesselyák
rec. 6-11 September 1997, Evangelical Church, Gyor, Hungary
CENTAUR CRC 2394 [74.00]

Marcel Farago has an interesting biography. He was born in Rumania and, according to the booklet, into a family of musicians. After the war he studied in Hungary but left in 1948. As a professional orchestral cellist he moved to South Africa to play in the Cape Town Municipal Orchestra and two years later to Brazil. He now lives in America and has been a cellist in the Philadelphia Orchestra. Throughout all that time he has steadily composed and, what is quite remarkable, he has not held back on major and large-scale compositions.

This disc was recorded nine years ago and has only just been submitted for review. The detailed notes by Bernard Jacobson written in 1997 tell us, this kind of dual career is in the tradition of DvořŠk who could, anyway, retire from the orchestra at the age of thirty. I would also add Nikos Skalkottas who as it turned out never retired to compose full-time. This experience obviously gives any composer an inside knowledge of orchestration and opportunities to try out pieces even if they never materialize on CD.

The first thing one notices about this music is how brilliant the orchestration can be, when the composer lets his hair down. After that I am struggling to be positive about much of the music. I suspect that my favourite work is the seven movement Divertimento. Formally I wonder why we have as many as seven movements. The first is an Allegro of just about two and a quarter minutes which comes out not much different from the ensuing Allegretto both with similar material and speed (crotchet=152 and then 132) which lasts just over one minute. The work revolves around a deeply-felt Adagio which is by far the longest movement. I felt at the end that five of the movements would have made more formal sense.

Terpsichore, bearing in mind the composerís biography is an attempt, conscious or unconscious Iím not sure, to combine eastern European dance rhythms with a kind of Copland Americana - open spaces, big orchestration. The piece is a noble failure, not dislikeable but just not very successful. Something slightly akin to Bartók is felt almost from the start, perhaps the Out of Doors suite for piano or the Dance Suite for orchestra, even down to some of the figurations and solo gypsy violin. By the time we reach about 5:15 we are in the world of Appalachian Spring or perhaps of the 2nd Symphony of Charles Ives.

Acousticon which opens the CD is, according to the notes "not concerned with rhythm but in sound effects". They go on to say that the colours of "instrumental families rather than individuals" are stressed. I quite like this piece but for the opposite reason: that I find it rhythmically exciting! At about 3:30 I love the harp and sustained chords against delicate woodwind solos!

Finally we come to the Freedom Symphony. I am always wary of speakers and speaking choruses especially when backed up by an orchestra that seems to do little more than add a background atmosphere with no symphonic development. It seems to me, that this, how can I put it, frightful text - which probably, quite wisely, Centaur do not reproduce - based on a speech by Vaclav Havel given soon after the collapse of the Warsaw Pact should have been left to moulder away in a long forgotten manifesto cupboard. Iíll give you a brief taste: "We have become morally ill, ícause we are used to saying one thing and thinking another". The chorus then repeat the last line, like a group of extra-terrestrials, something they are quite often asked to do. This text is divided up by moments of sound from chromatic timpani and tolling bells as if to emphasise manís doom.

The pace drags along for over eighteen minutes in all with lines from solo instruments, string tremolandi. and long gaps before we are treated to lines like "all of us have grown used to the totalitarian system" (gap) and accepted it as a fact (gap) and therefore keep it going".

There are two more movements and the pace quickens. The speaking is finally silenced and just as you think that the last movement may be redeeming the work by a faster pace, possibly inspired by another Rumanian dance rhythm, it suddenly stutters to another silence after a series of disjointed melodies accompanied by triangle and tambourine and after just four and a half minutes ends with the chorus shouting. ĎFREEDOMí. I know exactly how they felt.

I had been really looking forward to hearing and reviewing this CD by a composer who seemed to promise so much on paper but Iím afraid, as you have gathered, I cannot recommend it. It is unlikely that I will ever listen to it again.

Gary Higginson



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