Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Háry János – Suite for Orchestra (1926-27) [25:23]
Dance of Galánta (1933) [17:27]
Variations on a Hungarian Folksong (The Peacock) (1939) [28:29]
Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra/Ádám Fischer
rec. September-October 1990, Haydnsaal, Eisenstadt, Austria. DDD.
NIMBUS NI7081 [71:19]
Kodály’s music is owned by Hungarian conductors. They feel it deeper, and convey its spirit better. Ádám Fischer is the elder brother of Ivan Fischer and is probably mostly known for his association with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn orchestra. His recording of Kodály’s three most popular works for orchestra is worthy, but has a few drawbacks that prevent it from being put on the shelf with the best available choices. It seems that the root of all the problems is the distant, reverberant acoustics. The performance is also slower than usual, but this could be a deliberate adjustment made by the conductor in order to better deal with the acoustic situation.
The orchestral suite from Háry János is a treasure chest. The brooding Prelude starts with the famous “musical sneeze” – according to a Hungarian tradition, the sneeze proves that the following story is true! Viennese Musical Clock is light and crisp. Song is slow and atmospheric, with oriental shadows. It starts cool and gradually warms and collects colors, including the cimbalom. Battle and Defeat of Napoleon is a vivid scene ruled by brass and percussion; saxophone creates novel sonorities. Intermezzo is my favorite. It is in ABA form and has a genuine folk character, with plenty of cimbalom for everyone. This is open, proud and noble music from the world of Liszt’s Rhapsodies and Brahms’ Dances. The middle part is relaxed and transparent. Finally, Entrance of the Emperor is a bouncy, slightly comical march with a lot of oompah, little bells, trumpets, drums and piccolos. The march grows, covered in brass, becomes more opulent and triumphant, and all ends in grand jubilation.
My favorite recording of this work is by Istvan Kertesz and LSO on Decca/Belart. Despite the slight tape hiss, this is the most direct and vivid 3D. The music just leaps at you! His Prelude is deep and grand, and his musical sneeze is contagious. His Song has more contrasts, and the middle episode is dance-like. Kertesz rushes into the battle with Napoleon and his army, which is portrayed as a huge, heavy-footed monster. His Intermezzo is full of strength. The tutti are very tutti, and probably too much tutti. The cimbalom is very forwardly placed: on one hand you hear it well; on the other hand it is detached from the orchestra. He emphasizes the comical side of the Emperor’s march, but towards the end gives us an accelerating storm. In brief, this is the most electrifying reading.
I also listened to two Antal Doráti recordings. The one with the Minneapolis Orchestra does not come alive, because of the very even, steady beat. The music becomes square and mechanical, as if conducted by a metronome – this is especially noticeable in the Intermezzo. On the other hand, his Battle and Emperor parts have impressive power. Dorati’s recording with Philharmonia Hungarica has poorer acoustics and is characterized by huge dynamic leaps between loud and quiet. In the Battle the pauses are big, so everything falls apart. The saxophone is not very interesting, but the trumpets are excellent, and the culmination is like a volcano erupting. Overall, this recording sounds good but ordinary, without the fire brought by Kertesz.
Fischer’s recording has many pros and contras. His “sneeze” does not have the same vividness as Kertesz’s, but his slower approach brings good fruit in the Prelude, leading you into the magical fairytale, like Tchaikovsky’s growing Christmas tree. In the Song, the opening cello is rather expressionless; but again the relaxed middle episode uncovers new sides. In the Battle scene, he has an exceptional saxophone, and a greater feeling of depth, of multi-layered sonority. The approach of the French army is very graphic. He brings excellent rhythmic spontaneity to Intermezzo, and his syncopation is very alive; but the distant recording reduces the effect. The cimbalom blends with the orchestra – usually it is very separate. Entrance of the Emperor seems too fussy. When the march is growing, the sound becomes blurred. The acceleration is well done, but the orchestra sounds thinnish.
Kodály lived in Galánta for seven years, and there he listened to the famous local band. Dances of Galánta is like a musical memoir from these days, a whirling sequence of 17th century Hungarian dances, going faster and faster. The first one is slow and stately. The second is reminiscent of the Hungarian Dances by Brahms. The third is slender and frolicsome, framed by the returns of the slow opening motif. We start building the steam with the fourth dance, alive and heavily syncopated. Suddenly the momentum is suspended for a nonchalant, slightly tipsy episode – but then the rolling resumes, and everything bursts loose in the fifth dance, the fastest. This is the apotheosis of movement and joy, and in all music only the end of Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody No.1 can compete with the impact of this uninhibited swirl. We slow down for one last reflection before rushing into the abandon of the swirling dance!
Fischer’s approach to this score is very symphonic. He keeps the energy for the ending, and starts slowly and cautiously. As a result, the contrast between the dances is more pronounced, and the ending becomes even more effective. His third dance is more dainty than playful. The fourth has a feeling of inevitability. It’s impossible to stay calm and indifferent. The last dance will make your heart beat faster – this is absolute happiness. If only the recording was closer and better! I swear I hear real reverberating echoes – especially in the closing chords.
The last work is a set of orchestral variations on an old Hungarian song The Peacock. The spirit of the ancient times is created by the heavy use of the pentatonic scale, as well as the rich, brocade orchestration. There is no overarching idea: these are variations for variations sake. The work is large – about half an hour. It is a long journey, you see wonders on every step, but as any long journey it can become tiring. Even Kertesz loses my attention somewhere mid-way. But Fischer conveys a sense of purpose that, even with his unrushed tempos, propels this leviathan forward. Fischer paints on a grand scale. The string climaxes are massive. The rhythmically rich, active parts receive exuberant treatment like new Polovtsian Dances. The slow episodes are grandiose yet thoughtful. In the middle of the road we enter the ethereal realm where the time stands still. The dirge is haunting, and the flute solo is sublime. The last part is again full of movement, the music is iridescent and festive. This is an excellent reading, highlighting all the wonders of the score – although I feel that it lacks some enthusiasm. Again, all is let down by the diffuse recording quality.
Summarizing, these are good performances, a bit on the slow side, but not the best available, chiefly because of the acoustic decisions.
These are good performances, a bit on the slow side, but not the best available, chiefly because of the acoustic decisions.