Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Egmont, op. 84 Overture (1788) [8:46]
Zoltán KODALY (1882-1967)
Dances of Galánta (1933) [15:1]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 68 (1876) [44:58]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803 - 1869)
La Damnation de Faust - Rákóczy March (1846) [4:20]
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/János Ferencsik
rec. 16 February 1966, Royal Festival Hall, London

This Royal Festival Hall concert was recorded by Geoffrey Terry, whose series of live broadcast performances provides a select look at some stellar musicians caught on the wing.

The focus here is on János Ferencsik and the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra, who were touring Britain. Ferencsik (1907-1984) was approaching sixty at the time but there is no hint of the generic or routine in his conducting, nor indeed jaded touring spirits. The concert opened with the overture to Egmont, which is marshalled in fine style. There’s nothing mercurial about it, though also not quite the interpretative and inexorable momentum generated by someone such as, say, Jochum. Nevertheless the recorded clarity allows us to hear the wind playing with unchilly brilliance, as well as the Hungarian warmth of the strings. It shouldn’t be overlooked that Ferencsik recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies on LP, as well as overtures - this obviously includes Egmont.

A particular highlight is the Dances of Galánta, to which the visiting orchestra brings its accustomed panache and vitality. The LSO under its own Hungarian conductor, István Kertész, had recorded it just before, but there’s a great deal to be said interpretatively and colouristically for this entrant. A considerable amount of panache is on display and there are idiomatic statements from, amongst others, the principal clarinet. The strings meanwhile dig in with tensile allure, and there is a palpable sense of engagement with the music’s rich melodic lines. Rhythmic spruceness is well attended to, and the brio level is high, thanks in no small part to the strong percussion statements - which are captured with immediacy by the splendidly consistent and clarity-conscious recording set up.

The Brahms C minor Symphony reveals, once again, just how dependable and musicianly was János Ferencsik’s conducting of the core repertoire. It’s a powerful reading, tonally freighted in places, and graced by a good, forward wind choir once more, a powerful dark bass line which conveys the rather Germanic bass-up string sonority finely. No complaints either regarding the horn contributions or the brass generally. All sections of the orchestra in fact are strongly engaged. The slow movement is lovingly etched but there is requisite fire in the finale.

After this we have an encore - the Rákóczy March - which elicits, rightly one thinks, lusty applause.

Jonathan Woolf

A powerful reading of the Brahms graced by a powerful dark bass line ... see Full Review