Though I confess
to a sweet tooth generally where post-Johann
Strauss Viennese operetta is concerned,
I must say that Kálmán’s
"Countess Maritza" has always
struck a particular chord in me, over
and beyond the works of Lehár.
Its melodies and harmonies seem to
me to transcend their actual comedy
context to express strong, melancholy
emotions which somehow tug at my heartstrings.
I realize this is a purely subjective
view and for others it may be Lehár
and not Kálmán who has
this effect, and for others again
the fact that this is "light"
music may prove a barrier to perceiving
strong emotion in any of it. But if
you do find yourself nodding
in agreement with my remarks, then
I think you will be thrilled to find
that much of this same emotional thrust,
this time coupled with an unfettered
abandonment to Magyar melancholy,
can be found in most of the first
twelve songs here and a few of the
others. You will recognize many of
the same rhythms, and occasional turns
of phrase, as are found in "Countess
Maritza", a question of Hungarian
heritage, I imagine, rather than actual
For this is very
early Kálmán and this
recently rediscovered (though it was
published at the time) collection
of 20 songs seems to represent all
that survives. They make up two groups;
the first twelve are serious, passionate
and above all melancholy, with well-wrought
piano parts and soaring vocal lines;
few though they are, they must now
take the same place in Hungarian music
as Duparc’s few songs have in French.
The others are actually eight numbers
rescued from a Singspiel –
first operetta – which flopped in
1906 though the score was liked. Some
of these are more conventionally jolly
but when melancholy breaks through
they are touching and the set ends
with an attractive duet.
Sensibly, the two
sets have been separated by four piano
pieces – out of only five which have
survived. I thought the first disarmingly
attractive, the others merely agreeable.
But I repeat, the first twelve songs
are a real find.
are admirable. Anna Korondi has a
voice which seems light yet able to
soar, Felicity Lott-like, into a creamy
upper register. Even before reading
her curriculum, I thought she’d make
a fine Sophie, and in fact I see this
is one of her roles. She would also
make a splendid Countess Maritza.
The baritone has a rich, warm voice,
but in comparison with the soprano
he is a little less able to bind the
notes together to make a soaring legato
line. Still, his are likeable performances.
Peter Stamm is excellent both as accompanist
and soloist, the recording is fine,
the booklet notes are duly informative
and there are the original texts with
translations into German and English.
Though Korondi’s performances, in
particular, will not be improved upon
easily, I nevertheless hope that many
more singers, including as many non-Hungarians
as are willing to face up to the intricacies
of the language, will take these songs
into their repertoire.