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Sándor BALASSA (b. 1935)
Journeys in Bihar County, op.93 (2005) [24:56]
Civis Town of Debrecen, op.91 (2005) [21:25]
Praise of Knightly Virtues, op.100 (2007) [27:32]
MR (Hungarian Radio) Symphony Orchestra/Adam Medveczky
rec. 28 February 2008, Studio 6, Hungarian Radio. DDD
Experience Classicsonline

I have known the name of Sándor Balassa for many years but I have never, knowingly, heard a note of his music. Until now. This isn't because there haven't been any recordings of his music for there have been many. It's probably because he isn't played or broadcast all that much in the UK. These three pieces – two suites and a tone poem – are all very recent and, I assume, are typical of Balassa's style. The Journeys in Bihar County is a reminiscence of the area where the composer lived as a boy. Balassa has written, "All I had to do was to revive the experiences of my youth, to look for nice and genuine sounds  suitable for evoking the call of the native land in the listener as well." Consequently we have a pleasant four movement suite, colourful and unpretentious.
Civis Town of Debrecen was written to commemorate the day the town was created. In one large movement, subdivided into several contrasting sections, the composer has written, "The piece does not intend to annoy, to scare away the listener but rather wishes to draw him into the sensation of an emotionally familiar and common tone letting through the folksong-like intonation and the sound of the Hungarian soul." It is a colourful and unpretentious piece.
Praise of Knightly Virtues is a five movement suite based on the most naďve of concepts – "the work is an imaginary experiment to set right the 'time out of joint'" and "I was looking for a simple, sincere tone in the naive belief that there would still be listeners in this corrupted world who believe in the natural order of things." It is a colourful and unpretentious piece.
You may already have worked out why I have described each work with exactly the same words. If you haven't let me tell you that although all three works are quite attractive, and they don't get in the way of whatever is going through your mind as you listen to them, they simply fail to deliver any really satisfactory experience, musical or otherwise. For instance, the final movement of Journeys in Bihar County is supposed to represent a fair but it is far too four-square and well planned for anything so exciting and chaotic. The knightly virtues of the final piece are equally leaden-footed and uninspired. And that is the real problem – this music is uninspired; well crafted, to be sure, but with no heart, no sense of what it is supposed to be portraying, all the three pieces could exist under totally different titles and it would still be the same music saying little.
Balassa makes mention of the Hungarian qualities of this music but there's much more Magyar feel to the music of Bartók, Kodály, Dohnányi and Ligeti than you'll find here. I would love to be able to welcome this disk for the music is tuneful and colourful (there I go again), well orchestrated and pleasant but that's simply not enough to make a musical work stand repeated hearings. One demands more than this from a composition – nice isn't enough.
Bob Briggs


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