Sándor VERESS (1907-1992)Bert Bailey
Hommage ŕ Paul Klee: Fantasies for two pianos and strings (1951) [27:05]
Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion (1952) [28:55]
Six Csárdás (1938) [7:03]
András Schiff (piano); Dénes Várjon (Hommage) (piano); Gábor Takács-Nagy (violin
Budapest Festival Orchestra/Heinz Holliger
rec. 1997 (Budapest); 1998 (Berlin: Csárdás)
Full tracklist of the Hommage at end of review
TELDEC 0630-19992-2 [63:22]
Sándor Veress represents a high water mark in Hungary’s rich musical heritage. He belongs between the generations of Bartók and Kodály, his teachers, and of Ligeti and Kurtag, his pupils. He experienced both world wars and Hungary’s police state afterwards, emigrating to Switzerland at age 45. Veress also taught Heinz Holliger, who was responsible for this fine recording, a loving tribute to his teacher.
The Hommage ŕ Paul Klee, the first of the three works on this disc, is nowhere near as grim as one might expect from someone escaping tyranny. It is a seven-movement work combining transcendent soundscapes with a frisky jazziness, presumably reflecting in music seven of Klee’s paintings. It has been adapted for ballet no doubt due to the both celestial and playful moods which Veress manages to invoke through his limpid musical lines. That said, its fifth movement, marked Allegretto (Stone Collection), is an exciting and rhythmic tour de force, with pizzicato strings adding infectious momentum to the rambunctious pianos. Similarly, the near-mystical reverie in the next-to-last movement – an Andante (Green in Green) – is followed by a tumultuous Vivo (Little Blue Devil) that charges in a headlong rush to close the Hommage.
Although neither in sonata form nor theme-and-variations structure, this Hommage ŕ Paul Klee is a (two-) piano concerto in all but name. It convincingly blends tuneful folk forms within a near-austere aesthetic. Weightless although far from light, its ethereal transparency beautifully suits the simple yet evocative paintings that the Hommage seeks to mirror. Its shape as a suite of movements bears comparison in a number of intriguing ways to Frank Martin’s 1974 Polyptyque for violin and two small string orchestras (Koch Schwann: Musica Mundi 3-6732-2). Claudio Veress, who runs a website for his father’s music, reports that the composer was a great admirer of Martin’s music. This work suggests that the sentiment may have been reciprocated.
The Concerto for Piano, Strings and Percussion is clearly from the same compositional hand, despite the dramatic force that is contributed by the addition of both pitched and unpitched percussion. Although in the three standard movements – fast, slow, faster – the middle one is for solo piano almost throughout, except where strings very occasionally add contour. After the first movement’s mid-point, the strings and percussion churn and whirl emphatically in a clear tip of the hat to Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta. The solo piano then settles into a lyrical yet near-glacially-paced theme whose development continues in the Andante con moto, gradually developing into running scales that raise a sense of anticipation akin to that in the famous middle of Ravel’s Concerto in G. In the final movement, a snare drum and timpani spur the piano and strings to generate some intricate tensions that are embellished later by a celesta and other percussion. All of this delightful musical turmoil lets up only at the approach of the close. In one of the most enchanting endings to a work of this kind, a gracefully-shaped piano figuration after a brief silence brings the movement to a delicate close, accompanied by the sotto voce ensemble.
The lagniappe to these two robust works is Veress’s Six Csárdás, which are counterpoint-rich piano miniatures, played by Schiff with characteristic sensitivity and artful precision. Bartók fans are likely to delight in several familiar sonorities and shapes, although there is no mistaking Veress’s compositional hand throughout these Hungarian dances.
All of these works are approachable, despite a persistent but never jarring dissonance. Veress’s music is finely-crafted yet lively, with a strong personality and no hint of a musical cliché. All three works richly reward repeated hearings. Although the Concerto is less ethereal than the Hommage, both are rhythmic, tuneful works, reflecting their folkish substrate. Various discernible Bartókian traits and gestures surface in these works – such as in the closing Csárdá; or in the way a stormy orchestral episode is followed by a pregnant silence, whereupon a musical pirouette ends the Concerto’s drama with unexpected poetry. Still, the authorship is always unmistakably that of Veress: despite the legacy, the familiar gestures are so deeply ingrained into his voice as to in no way compromise his muse. The liner notes also speak of his interest in Schoenberg and of Veress’s use of 12-tone techniques, but that is no reason to head for the hills: they are not adhered to rigorously in these works, nor are they even discernible.
The performers’ commitment to this music is complete, and Teldec’s technical team also succeeds in providing a recording in flawless sound. The booklet is informative and includes reproductions of all seven Klee paintings. Incidentally, there is another recorded interpretation of the Hommage – by Elena Sorokina and Alexander Bakhchiev, with a Chamber Ensemble under Gennady Rozhdestvensky (Vista Vera VVCD-00050). It takes a rather more staccato, often brisker approach, providing a useful counterweight to this more reverent interpretation by Schiff/Várjon under Holliger.
Also recommended are various CDs of chamber music, perhaps especially a 2011 release of Veress’s two String Quartets and a String Trio (Ensemble Des Equilibres; Hungaroton HCD 32691). Certainly unmissable is Holliger’s earlier album with the 1961 Passacaglia Concertante for oboe and strings, the 1966 Musica Concertante for twelve strings, and Veress’s a cappella Songs of the Seasons (ECM 1555 447 390-2). These, too, are well-developed works of striking intensity, although, coming from the more mature artist, they seem a trice more aloof – or, you decide, perhaps they are simply more elusive.
At least four interpreters over the past generation have performed his Violin Concerto (1939, rev. ‘48). The composer’s son is partial to Thomas Zehetmair’s approach, and imagines Heinz Holliger as ideally suited to conduct it for ECM – a label that, like Hungaroton and Musikszene Schweiz, has championed the composer. But who knows if Naxos’s Klaus Heymann, that classical music maverick of our time, will surprise us with this work’s premiere recording, possibly raising Veress from his current near-obscurity into the limelight he very clearly deserves.
Meantime, when it comes to Veress, this disc of concertante and solo works for piano conducted by Holliger is an ideal starting point for beginners – and absolutely essential for those already familiar with his music.
Track-list of the Hommage ŕ Paul Klee: Fantasies for two pianos and strings, followed by the corresponding paintings:-
1 Allegro - Mark in Yellow
2 Allegro molto - Fire Wind
3 Andante con moto - Old Sound
4 Allegretto piacevole - Below and Above
5 Allegretto - Stone Collection
6 Andante - Green in Green
7 Vivo - Little Blue Devil