Brahms originally published the twenty-one Hungarian
Dances as pieces for piano duet (four hands). The first set was assembled
in 1869, bringing together a number of pieces, which Brahms had composed
sporadically during the 1850s and 1860s for his amusement, and that
of his friends. A second set of dances was published in 1880. The orchestrations
here recorded are by a variety of hands. Brahms himself orchestrated
the first, third and tenth dances while Dvorák orchestrated numbers
17 – 21. None of this information is available to purchasers of this
CD for there is no documentation whatsoever other than a track listing.
That’s a pity, I think, because this disc is presumably aimed at the
impulse purchaser who may well know nothing about the music. Some brief
notes surely would not have hurt?
I’m also unable to tell you when or where the performances
were recorded although the recording is DDD and the recording, which
sounds unmistakably to be a studio production, is licensed from the
Hungaroton label. The sound is a little close and dry; it would have
benefited from a bit more space around the players. That said, the sound
is perfectly acceptable though the closeness leads to just a touch of
harshness in tutti passages.
The playing of the Hungarian Philharmonic is affectionate
and committed though the orchestra is not in the highest class. I would
have welcomed a bit more dynamic contrast (though the absence of truly
soft playing may be due in part to the recorded balance already mentioned.)
This is music which needs to lilt and smile and, in
the last analysis, these performances seem to me rather to be lacking
in charm and grace. As a whole the collection is serviceable but there
are several other versions in the catalogue, covering all price brackets,
and even at budget price I can’t really say, hand on heart, that this
CD is truly competitive.