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Brilliant Classics

Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Háry János - suite (1926-27) [25.22]
Peacock Variations (1939) [28.29]
Psalmus Hungaricus (1923) [20.16]
Dances of Marosszék (1930) [12.31]
Dances of Galánta (1933) [15.34]
András Molnár (ten) (Psalmus)
Hungarian State Chorus (Psalmus)
Bartók Béla Children's Choir of Györ
Hungarian State Symphony (Psalmus) Orchestra/Adam Fischer (CD1)
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Iván Fischer (CD2)
rec. 1990, Haydnsaal, Eisenstadt, Austria (CD1); June 1990 (CD2)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 6514 [54.01+48.36]


While bewailing the absence of the Kodaly Symphony what is on offer here, at well below bargain price, is uniformly good or better than good. It can be compared with the similarly successful Bartók set from the same company.

The Háry János is given a natural sound which means that if you have become attuned to the exciting excesses of say the Solti version you might miss the lurid technicolour quality. This is still music of dazzling display and musical substance - the latter illustrated by the expectant Prelude and the reflective melancholic Song. This combination in balance is Kodály's strength. We should also not underestimate his sensational experimental effects - not just the ‘sneeze’ but also the groaning and rumbling of The Battle and Defeat of Napoleon. The cimbalom plays a more completely synthesised role in the Intermezzo as opposed to the usual concerto balance. The pomp of the Entrance and of the Viennese Musical Clock recalls Prokofiev's jangling effects in The Love of Three Oranges.

Helpfully János is in six segments. The Peacock Variations are in a single 30 minute track; a pity the decision could not have been taken to band each of the introduction, sixteen variations and finale. The work is another brilliant display vehicle, this time written for the Concertgebouw Orchestra. It is best sampled, in this case, at 4.43 where the stereo effects are well communicated. A new-minted freshness equivalent to the pastoral scores of Howells, Hadley and Moeran can be heard at 20.32. If you hear Kodály's Symphony you will hear some uncanny resemblances with the Moeran Symphony in G minor. There are similar echoes in the Peacock. Adam Fischer makes much of the romance of this score in which the Peacock fans its feathers once more.

While I regret the absence of the Symphony I would not want to be without Psalmus Hungaricus. The presence of the Psalmus is something of a surprise in this setting because it features a solo voice and choirs. Everything else in the box is for orchestra alone. The Psalmus is a nationalist hymn without an ounce of windy rhetoric. The tenor Molnár is a fervent singer clearly identifying with the patriotic text (which Brilliant do not include). This, together with the Marosszék and Galánta, are on the second disc, conducted by Adam's brother Ivan, in Budapest with the city's Festival Orchestra. The venue is not given but the hall is as lively as Vienna's Haydnsaal. The Psalmus can be seen as a Hungarian equivalent of Howard Hanson's Lament for Beowulf or Sibelius's Kullervo (by the way Kodály wrote a choral setting of words from the Kalevala: Vainamoinen Makes Music). If you like either of those works you will have to have this one. It is volatile and extremely dramatic to the point where it sounds operatic - listen to the swinging tenor line ushering in the fiery hymn of the massed choirs. Kodaly nevertheless has the integrity to end quietly with a submissive sigh. The words are adapted from Psalm 55.

Kodály and Bartók each collected folk songs. With Kodály their heritage is clearer in his concert works and this is true of both the lower key Marosszék Dances and the masterly Galánta set. The three works on the second CD are each allocated a single track. The Marosszék set do not lack dazzle and the smashing tinkling impacts at 09.01 remind us of this.

Decent English-only notes by Katalin Fittler are supplied.

Brilliant Classics have set about establishing a full range catalogue and have approached the task at full tilt and with almost missionary zeal. They are well along the way. Time for a complete Tchaikovsky symphony cycle not to mention Nielsen. With this set and the Bartók (also conducted by Adam Fischer) Brilliant have completed their Hungarian corner. Where next?

Rob Barnett

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