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Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Art Songs
see end of review for listing
Andrea Meláth (mezzo); Anna Korondi (soprano); Gyula Orendt (baritone); Szabolcs Brickner (tenor); Csaba Szegedi (baritone); István Kovács (bass); Judit Németh (mezzo); Emese Virág (piano); Jenö Jandó (piano)
rec. Hungaroton Studio, 21 November 2007-1 September 2008. DDD
Text by Mihaly Ittzes
HUNGAROTON HCD32555-56 [72:55 + 63:37]
Experience Classicsonline

Kodály’s songs are slightly less well-known than his chamber and piano music which date from the same period of his life (1900-1920). They did however serve the same purpose: enabling him to develop an individual style. However, it is interesting that even his earliest songs possess more individuality than the corresponding chamber and piano works. It’s also of note that he did not totally neglect songs even after he had moved on to the great orchestral and choral/orchestral works by which he is best known. 

Songs make up the composer’s Op. 1: in fact, sixteen original songs to folk-texts, some actually using folk patterns in the melodic line. The order of these songs varied for several years before being finally established. They also vary from frank imitation of Debussy, Kodály’s idol, to several that are quite distinctively “Kodály”. One of the most notable is no. 3 , The cage is open wide, which is absolutely beautiful. No. 10, Ah, my beloved, is also distinctive in the way it builds in intensity from beginning to end. But the gem of the entire set would be No. 15, Ah, but you know. This demonstrates the composer’s successful combination of folk-style with contemporary harmony in a very enjoyable way.

The next three songs are a world recording premiere - three songs written in 1906-07 as gifts. They are to texts by the famous Hungarian poet Béla Balázs and while simple, show further progress towards complete individuality. This is continued in the Op. 3 set. Although the second song, Nausikaa, is one of the composer’s best-known, I found the last, My heart aches, written for a play in 1917, the most effective by far. Its wonderful descending melody and unremitting sense of gloom definitely stays with one. The last of the composer’s youthful songs are contained in the Seven Songs Op. 6, sometimes known as Belated Melodies. Among these the song Solitude stands out in the way Kodály uses modality to portray a sense of total isolation. Similar in feeling, but very different in execution is Meridian of life. Even better is the fifth song The Forest, which is very cunningly constructed. One must also note the last song for its unusual (for Kodály) sense of irony.

Approaching the age of thirty caused the composer to dwell on eternal questions of existence and this is evident in the Op. 5 and Op. 9 songs. It is interesting that the Op.5 were the first songs that he chose later to orchestrate. Approaching winter is really a vocal scena with a wonderful sense of the music gradually freezing as we listen to it, with interludes of despair and uncertainty before freezing for good. No wonder the composer orchestrated it. Cry, cry is not as massive as Approaching winter, but is equally dramatic as well more dissonant.

The five songs of Op. 9 span the greatest range of emotions of any group in this set. Adam, where are you is a transcendental, almost cinematic, song of triumph - a great contrast to the songs of Op. 5. Totally different is Sappho’s love Song which is almost Mediterranean in feeling, while Night is an atmospheric mood-piece. My little flower starts outs simply enough, but becomes progressively more mysterious. The Forest returns to the mood of the Op.5 but with a notable advance in construction and a very individual chordal structure.

The three songs of Op. 14 were written at the same time as the famous Psalmus Hungaricus. They are all big songs and were also later orchestrated by the composer. More importantly they reach a new level of subtlety and freedom of expression, especially in Behold, my open soul and Woe it is. Fly, sweet bird is simpler but shows a new flexibility in the setting of words. All three songs are completely mature and demonstrate that the composer had finally arrived at his own, completely integrated, style.

After The Quick Reapers of the Grove (1925) Kodály did not write any songs for almost thirty years. Actually, the Epigrams started life as nine instrumental miniatures for teaching purposes, although they have more than pedagogic value. Words were added by Melinda Kistétényi and they can now be sung - this is their first recording as songs. They are all simple and charming and vary in mood. Perhaps the most interesting is Cloud, although the piece entitled Dream is very evocative. Alpine Dream provides a surprisingly stark ending to the set - one can almost hear the wind at the top of the mountain. The Epitaphium Joannis Hunyadi was written as a sight-singing piece but also possesses greater value. It is extremely powerful and could be described as mini-version of Prokofieff’s Alexander Nevsky in its subject matter and intensity.

Among the singers Brickner is definitely the star. His renditions of the Balázs songs and the Op. 14 are top-notch. Korondi is also good. She has a real feeling for her songs and a remarkably clear voice. Szegedi’s version of Approach of Winter is somewhat disappointing, but he sings Epitaphium with great spirit. Meláth is also disappointing in the Op.1 songs, but in Alas, from the Four Songs, is very impressive. The two pianists are uniformly good. Recording, however, is very variable, especially of the piano. This set is part of Hungaraton’s new versions of the complete Kodály and Bartók and whatever its limitations, stands as the basic version for anyone interested in Kodály’s songs or his career in general.

William Kreindler 

Track listing
CD 1
Sixteen Songs on Folk melodies Op. 1 (1906-07) (Three the ways I may go; Come to me my little birdie; The cage is open wide; I neither toil nor spin; My delightful brown-haired mistress; Oh, how long it is; He who loves a fair one; I have always wondered; Slender is a silk thread; Ah, my beloved; Let not your anger rise; Now it’s clear and now it’s cloudy; Never again shall I do; Do you think that I would sorrow; Ah, but you know; I plucked the fairest flowers)
Three songs on poems of Bála Balázs Op. post. (Why are you saying you do not love me; Wherever I have walked; Sleep, sleep)
Four Songs (Alas, alas; Nausikaa; Meadow song; My heart aches)
Seven Songs Op. 6 (Solitude; Letter fragment to my lady friend; The meridian of life; Spring; The forest; Suppression; Carnival)
CD 2
The quick reapers of the grove
Two Songs Op.5 (The approaching winter; To cry, to cry, to cry)
Five Songs Op. 9 (Adam, where are you?; Sappho’s love song; Night; My little flower; The forest)
Three Songs Op. 14 (Woe it is; Behold, my open soul; Stay sweet bird)
Epigrams (Love of my country; Approaching summer; Sadness; Lily of the Valley; Spring; Lullaby; Cloud; Dream; Alpine Dawn)
Epitaphium Joannis Hunyadi


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