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CD: Crotchet

Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Orchestral Works
Háry János - Suite (1926) [21:48]
Dances of Galánta (1933) [15:09]
The Peacock: Folksong [2:56]
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong “The Peacock” (1939) [24:46]
Dances of Marosszék (1930) [12:25]
Theatre Overture (1931) [14:14]
Concerto for Orchestra (1939) [16:55]
Summer Evening (1906) [16:44]
Symphony in C (1960) [25:50]
Háry János* Acts 1-3 (1926) [69:25]
Háry János* Act 4: (1926) [27:48]
Minuetto serio [6:35]
Ballet Music [5:32]
Hungarian Rondo (1918) [8:35]
Psalmus Hungaricus, op.13 (1923) [23:04]
Philharmonia Hungarica/Antal Doráti CD 1-2 CD 4 (Psalmus)
London Symphony Orchestra Chorus/Arthur Oldham (Peacock folksong)
Peter Ustinov - Narrator; Erzsébet Komlóssy - Örzse; László Palócz - Marci; György Melis - Háry/Napoleon; Zsolt Bende - Bombazine; Olga Szönyi - Marie-Louise; Margit László - Empress
Lajos Kozma (tenor) (Psalmus); John Leach (cimbalom); Edinburgh Festival Chorus/Arthur Oldham; Brighton Festival Chorus/László Heltáy; Wandsworth School Boys’ Choir/Russell Burgess; London Symphony Orchestra/István Kertész (CD 3-4 except Psalmus)
rec. 1968-1973, Kingsway Hall, London; Marl, Germany. ADD
full tracklist at end of review
DECCA COLLECTORS EDITION 478 2303 [4 CDs: 294:26]

Experience Classicsonline

No other company has produced such a compendious Kodály collection so direct competition is not going to be an issue in this review. That still leaves the question of how well this collection meets the needs of Kodály and the listener or collector.

For collectors whose memories extend back to the primeval ooze of the vinyl era the recordings here are likely to be familiar. Who would have thought that Decca would still be extracting yield from those stereo sessions of forty-plus years ago? Fortunately they hit a golden time for Decca recording technology. This together with authentic national flavouring from all concerned including the sympathy and intensity of Doráti (1906-1988) and Kertész (1929-1973) provides a healthy foundation for infinite issue, reissue, repackaging and re-sequencing. Every change of playing medium technology will find the company reaching back to these recordings. The recordings are by no means strangers to the CD format. Broadly speaking CDs 1 and 2 were originally reissued on silver disc as Double Decca 443 006-2 but with some differences. Then again we heard the lion’s share of CDs 3 and 4 on Decca 443 488-2 which had Kertész’s Peacock Variations rather than Doráti’s. The first set can still be had but the second disappeared years ago and is inaccessible unless you go for the ArkivCD custom version or strike it lucky with Amazon or Ebay; you might have a long wait and end up paying astonishing prices though. Speaking of such matters I recall a ragingly successful Saga LP of Kodály’s Cello Sonata (János Starker) coupled with the Duo. Do any of you know it? I recall it as something very special indeed but lost touch with my LP years ago. There were some wonderful things on Saga including, in 1974, a 2LP version of Granados’ Goyescas from the pianist Mario Miranda (Saga STXID 5343-4. If only we could hear these recordings again.

When it comes to Kodály’s orchestral music you could not ask for a better selection from Decca. I say this unless you insist on stunning digital sound in which case you must go for individual discs culled from here and there. There’s no comparable package that competes head-on and certainly nothing at the bargain price offered here. The set is well documented by Colin Anderson and the track separation is generous with each variation, scene, movement and interlude separately tracked; only Marosszék among the multi-movement works has to manage with a single track. Sadly the booklet does not provide the sung texts or translations. That’s presumably the price you pay for the set being so low priced.

János appears as the customary suite (Doráti) as well as the full fairytale singspiel (Kertész) in a prologue and four adventures all done luxuriously with Peter Ustinov as narrator. You might I suppose find Ustinov or the sound effects irritating; I don’t. You could opt for the modern complete premium price version on Accord but you will not escape a narrator. In Accord’s case it is Gérard Dépardieu. Hungaroton have a full 2 CD version as well with the Hungarian State Opera forces conducted by János Ferencsik (HCD12837-38). Unfortunately I have not heard this - though I would like to along with many other Hungaroton Kodály entries. So far as the suite is concerned the cimbalom, in the Doráti recording, has a relishable tangy twang and is given lots of very welcome presence in the audio-image. Doráti’s expatriate Hungarian band working in the safe confines of Marl in Germany relish the break from their mammoth Haydn Symphony Edition. The technicians pay admiring court to the braying blast of the brass and the bucolic spindrift woodwind. The Galanta Dances whirl and shimmer in pastoral delight. Again the bold recording image never hints at modesty - false or otherwise. Kodály wrote a very large amount of choral music which really should be recorded as an intégrale. The BBC in the 1980s studio recorded large tracts of it. This brings me to tr. 12 of CD 1 which is the folksong for male choir on which the warm, vivacious and dancingly rapturous Peacock Variations are based. It is sung with thrumming presence by the chorus of the LSO under the composer-conductor Arthur Oldham. Do not on any account miss out on CD 2. Kodály lost none of his freshness in opting for unaccustomed conventional formats such as the concerto and the symphony. The pensive and then bustling Theatre Overture was initially intended for Háry János but now lives an independent existence. The Concerto for Orchestra and the Symphony are each three movement works and have a fresh outdoor spirit, brilliantly orchestrated and agreeably proportioned. Each has uncanny overtones of E.J. Moeran so if you like the Moeran Symphony, Sinfonietta and Serenade you must hear these works. Other composers who occasionally come to mind in the orchestral music are Rimsky, de Falla and passim Stravinsky. The Hungarian accent is present but you may be surprised by how close Kodály is to Moeran in the Concerto and Symphony - purely coincidental on both sides, I am sure. Summer Evening is an early work and is perfectly consistent with its title. Again if you enjoy the orchestral Delius or Hadley then you will appreciate this lavishly sun-bathed music. Interesting that the composer-conducted versions of Concerto for Orchestra [22:26] and Summer Evening [21:12] with the Budapest Philharmonic on Deutsche Grammophon Dokumente 427 408 recorded in Budapest Qualiton Studios in July 1960 are substantially longer than Doráti in this set. The music is so engaging but one wonders whether Kodály’s pastoral idylls are just as idealised and oneiric as the country rhapsodies of Delius, RVW, Moeran, Bridge and Hadley. Turning to the final works on CD 4 (Doráti and Philharmonia Hungarica), there is the stately Minuetto serio with its echoes of Haydn and Prokofiev’s Classical, the grumpily original, volatile and Honegger-like Ballet Music and the sunny disposition of the Hungarian Rondo. Very pleasing and with Kodály demonstrating that he has surprises up his sleeve alongside moments that can be heard as linking with the national rhapsodies of Alfvén and Enescu. Kertész is back at the helm for the turbulently patriotic Psalmus Hungaricus. The tenor Lajos Kosma is suitably heroic and imploring. Strange how strongly this bubbling broth of defiance and invocatory reflection reminded me in its outer movements of Sibelius’s Kullervo. Incidentally among Kodály’s legion compositions for unaccompanied choir is Vainamoinen Makes Music. The fervent singing of the choirs in the Psalmus is notable in the Igaz vagy Uram, itéletedben finale. That said I went back to the Fricsay live concert version (bedecked with coughs) with German forces on DG 445 410-2 and thought the heat of protest and fervour a few degrees higher than that projected by Kertész. However Fricsay’s tenor Ernst Haefliger singing in German not Hungarian was a degree more smooth though with less vibrato than Kosma. There is a further good modern version to be had in a 2CD set from Brilliant Classics. There the tenor is András Molnár.

The full singspiel Háry János in Op. 15 (1927) spans discs 3 and 4. The artists are Margit László (soprano), Zsolt Bende (baritone), John Leach (cimbalom), Olga Szönyi (soprano), Erzsébet Komlossy (soprano), László Palócz, György Melis (baritone); Edinburgh Festival Chorus, Wandsworth School Boys' Choir. London Symphony Orchestra/István Kertész. Recorded in 1968 this comes into a degree of competition with Accord's two CD version. The Accord is quite new but this Decca is still in stereo and as indicated earlier bears up Decca’s most exalted technical traditions of the 1960s. While the Accord has Gérard Dépardieu Decca has that master of a thousand voices and of the absurd in the shape of the iconic Peter Ustinov. Ustinov, radiating intelligence, plays a host of parts and speaks in English. He introduces and guides you through the work which could perhaps be irritating to some when you really get to know and love the work. Sound effects - applause, clatter of cutlery and of horse hooves (CD1 tr 12) - are used liberally. The effect is of a radio extravaganza with Ustinov holding court as narrator (out of the extreme LH channel) and voicing characters amid a full-cream sung and orchestral canvas. While Ustinov speaks in English the singing is in Hungarian and is magnificent in its occasionally Goons-like characterisation, its nobility and its clarity. Impressions crowd in: the cool flutes in CD 3 trs. 1 and 4, folksy pleasures flightily articulated by the women’s chorus (tr. 5), Leach's solo cimbalom registers under the voice of the tenor. In tr. 10 the cimbalom takes its place in the famous march - wonderfully registering and not losing an ounce of its metallic-plucked resonance. In tr. 13 there are the Heath Robinson style bells and whistles of the musical clock. Tr. 16 is resplendent in antiphonal fanfares - a true spatial spectacular with no apparent hiss. Tr. 18 has its raspberry bellowing trombones and tuba as the 11 ft high Napoleon enters the stage. There are shades here of the giant Hitler and Nazi party officials in Brecht-Eisler’s Schweik in WW2. The sound and the balances are in the best vivacious Decca tradition. Tr 10 reminds us how close Hungary is to the Orient. Tr 13 exudes the heroic turbulence of the patriotic spirit. It’s a delightful score where romance and zany satire meet, embrace or do wooden-sworded battle. It has a counterpart in the Prokofiev scores for Kijé and Three Oranges

This is a joyous set - satisfyingly capacious and much more than just a wonderful introduction to Kodály’s orchestral music.

Rob Barnett 

CD 1 [78:12]
Háry János - Suite
1 Prelude: The Fairy-tale begins 3:20
2 Viennese musical clock 2:14
3 Song 5:24
4 The battle and defeat of Napoleon3:58
5 Intermezzo 4:42
6 Entrance of the Emperor and his court 3:10
Dances of Galánta
7 Lento 4:38
8 Allegretto moderato 2:37
9 Allegro con moto, grazioso 1:28
10 Allegro 3:05
11 Allegro vivace 3:21
12 The Peacock: Folksong 2:56
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong “The Peacock”
13 Theme: Moderato 3:54
14 Variations I-VI 2:58
15 Variations VII-X 3:01
16 Variations XI-XII 5:33
17 Variations XIII-XVI 5:29
18 Finale: Vivace 3:51
19 Dances of Marosszék 12:25
CD 2 [73:42]
1 Theatre Overture 14:14
Concerto for Orchestra
2 I Allegro risoluto 3:24
3 II Largo 6:22
4 III Fugato -Coda 7:09
5 Summer Evening 16:44
Symphony in C
6 Allegro 10:13
7 Andante moderato 8:07
8 Vivo 7:30
CD 3 [69:25]
Háry János*
1 Introduction & Overture 5:23
Act 1: At the Russian-Hungarian Frontier
2 The Hussar’s Flute Solo 2:24
3The Old Woman 2:20
4 The Jewish Family 2:11
5 The Hungarian Girls 0:32
6 Örzse’s Song: Sej! Verd meg Isten 1:12
7 Duet - ‘Red Apple’: Piros alma 5:23
Háry, Örzse
8 Uncle Marci’s Drinking Song: O mely sok hal 3:54
9 Love Duet: Tiszán innen, Dunán túl 6:06
Háry, Örzse
10 Intermezzo 5:04
Act 2: Back in Vienna
11 Cuckoo Song: Ku-ku-kukuskám 2:29
12 The Wild Stallion 2:49
13 The Viennese Musical Clock 2:19
14 Örzse’s Love Song: Hogyan tudtál rózsám 3:15
15 Chicken Song: Hej két tikom 3:42
16 Soldiers’ Chorus: Ébresztö férfikar 5:51
Act 3: The Battle
17 Entry of the French 1:55
18 Entry of Napoleon 1:33
19 Funeral March 2:21
20 Napoleon’s Song: Oh, te vén sü-lü-lü 1:48
21 Gipsy Music 1:07
22 Bombazine’s Song: Hagyj békét, viaskodó, óh! 1:19
23 Song of the Hussar: A jó lovas katonának 4:27
Háry, chorus
CD 4 [73:07]
Act 4: The Imperial Palace in Vienna
1 Duet with chorus: Gyújtottam gyertyát völegénynek 5:12
Empress, Marie-Louise
2 Entry of the Emperor 3:19
3 Entry & Song of the Princess: Á, bé, cé, dé 2:18
Children’s choir
4 Exit of the Princess 2:18
5 Örzse’s Song: Szegény vagyok, szegénynek születtem 3:41
6 Háry’s Song: Felszántom a császár udvarát 2:48
7 Finale: Szegény derék magyar nép 9:56
8 Minuetto serio 6:35
9 Ballet Music 5:32
10 Hungarian Rondo 8:35
Psalmus Hungaricus, op.13
11 Mikoron Dávid nagy búsultában 8:04
12 Keserüségem annyi nem volna 4:22
13 Te azért lelkem, gondolatodat 4:12
14 Igaz vagy Uram ítéletedben 6:26  



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