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Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Háry János Suite (1926) [24:01]
Summer Evening (1906) [19:38]
Peacock Variations (1939) [25:27]
Hungarian Radio Symphony Orchestra/Adam Fischer
rec. Studio 22, Hungarian Radio, May 2007
Experience Classicsonline

Adam Fischer recorded the two main pieces on this CD in the early 1990s for Nimbus, a disc that is still available. It suffered, as so many from that stable at the time, from excessive reverberation and failed to make much of an impact on its main competitors. This time around, the sound quality is pretty much state-of-the-art, at least to my ears, and musically things are also quite satisfying.
He certainly invests the music with the required energy and characterful gusto. It really goes without saying that this colourful orchestral music has to be played with panache, and so it is. The six movement suite Kodály made from his comic singspiel Háry János has become his most popular orchestral work, and deservedly so. It’s a sort of Czech Don Quixote, with bags of fun and frolic as we follow the roguish hero through wild adventures during the Napoleonic Wars – none of which are to be taken too seriously. The orchestra is treated in glittering fashion, with loads of important folkish solos and the ever-famous tinkling cimbalom part in the Song and Intermezzo. Fischer’s rendition springs to life from the very opening, where we hear a giant ‘sneeze’ from the full band, and it doesn’t let up. I miss odd details from my benchmark version, Dorati and his Philharmonia Hungarica, mainly in Dorati’s slightly perkier tempos, but Fischer’s is a very fine and keenly felt performance.
Much the same can be said for the Peacock Variations. Here, Fischer’s modern recording quality does help the listener in many ways, but Dorati still comes up strongly, especially in the opening, which has more atmosphere in the older version. Fischer’s orchestra have a more resplendent string tone in the theme’s main statement, and he characterises the ‘Furiant’ (Var.8) and the ‘oriental’ section (10) especially well. Some exposed string passages do again show up Dorati’s orchestra, but even Fischer has trouble keeping his horn section completely together in Var.12. All told, this new version is extremely persuasive, with passing niggles never detracting from the whole.
Most versions of these pieces couple them with the Galanta or Marosszek Dances, so this newcomer’s rarer filler is especially welcome. Summer Evening is a student work that the composer returned to and revised at the insistence Toscanini, and a very attractive piece it is. Ghosts of formative influences abound – Strauss, Dvořák, even Debussy – but this is a really quite substantial offering that never outstays its welcome and is full of evocative orchestral shading, beautifully realized by Fischer and the orchestra.
Overall, a welcome addition to the Kodály stable. It’s a pity the variations aren’t separately banded (how often do I think that), and the open-out packaging is a trifle fussy. The liner-note also has some contentious points – are János and Peacock really ‘rarely played even today’? Maybe they’re right about concerts, but there have been some very famous discs over the years, so surely that’s a sign of popularity. Dorati still comes up fresh as paint - as does another buried way in my collection, from Susskind and the LPO - and makes an extremely attractive bargain on a ‘twofer’ with all the other main Kodály works, but if you fancy modern digital with no loss of ‘authentic’ spirit, this new one could be for you.
Tony Haywood


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