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Leó WEINER (1885-1960)
Toldi - Symphonic Poem op. 43 (1952-57) [65:55]
North Hungarian Symphony Orchestra/László Kovács
rec. Miskolc House of Arts, 30 June-4 July 2008. DDD
HUNGAROTON HCD32608 [65:55]  
Experience Classicsonline

Weiner was as much out of his time as many of his contemporaries who clung desperately to tonality. He held on despite the dodecaphonic gales blowing from academia, funding institutes and the artistic power-base from 1945 onwards.

To write a sixteen episode tone poem lasting five minutes more than an hour and to do so just after the death of Stalin was hardly propitious for performances. Weiner did however get a premiere for his Toldi. This took place on 14 November 1953 with János Ferencsik and the State Symphony Orchestra - a premiere and that was it. He kept improving the score - only stopping in 1957. ‘Toldi’ is an epic poem by János Aranyi. Twelve of sixteen movements are linked to the twelve cantos of Arany's poetic epic. It is very much bound up with Hungarian nationalism as much perhaps as Sibelius’s much earlier Kullervo is with Finnish culture. Much the same applies to Weiner's Csongor es Tünde.

I wondered, given the subject matter, whether this piece would be a Straussian tone poem; not a bit of it ... or not much. I confess that there is one Straussian moment in the finale. The language throughout is pleasingly indulgent with little of Bartók - unless you think of Kossuth - and more of Kodály. What we do encounter along the way are Delian idylls, a strutting pride that may remind you of celebratory Moeran, rustic dignity and the sort of ecstatic transcendence we hear from the tone poems of the Czech Viteszlav Novák. The story is distributed across the sixteen episodes but while it satisfies curiosity to see the titles I do not see that knowledge of these is necessary to the appreciation of this music. It's all  skilfully and lucidly orchestrated with Weiner’s airy textures adding to the wide-sky romantic nationalism of this music.

It might – in overview - be heard as a modernised version of Liszt's tone poems or of Grieg's fjord idylls. If you are sampling try the effervescent tr. 15 The Crowd Gathers by the Danube first, then revel in the foreboding built into Bence (tr. 6) and finally the gripping Sibelian anger of Tempest (tr. 9).

This CD serves Weiner's cause very well. If you would like to explore further Hungaroton have done the honours with his Violin Concertos on HCD32185, Csongor es Tünde suite on HCD31740 and Divertimentos on HCD32424.
Rob Barnett


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