Zádor was one of the many expatriate European composers who
fled from the spectre of Nazism during the 1930s and sought
refuge in Hollywood. There he worked in the film industry –
not principally as a composer but orchestrating the works of
others, in particular his fellow-Hungarian Miklós Rósza. He
was responsible for the arrangement of Rózsa’s Spellbound
Concerto. He was also active in promoting his own concert
music. Throughout his career he received a number of commissions
and performances from an impressive array of American-based
conductors as well as – more surprisingly – Weingartner and
Furtwängler, presumably the latter before he left Europe in
1938. Apart from the suite from his opera-oratorio Christopher
Columbus (Cambria CD-1100) and a set of eight Studies
recorded shortly before the composer’s death, however, none
of his work seems previously to have found its way onto CD.
His neglect as a composer both by Hollywood and record companies
may seem surprising given his high profile during his lifetime.
His Children’s Symphony included on this disc received
over a hundred performances, the informative booklet note by
Frank K DeWald informs us.
Listening to the works on this CD, it is perhaps not quite so
surprising. Hollywood studio chiefs may in particular have been
unimpressed by Zádor’s apparent unwillingness – or inability
– to compose really memorable themes. There is nothing here
to rival the sheer creativity of Rózsa, or Waxman, or Korngold.
The music is always impeccably and imaginatively orchestrated,
and the melodies are gracefully shaped, but they lack the sheer
impact that is needed for them to make an indelible impression.
The most effective piece is the Hungarian Capriccio
written before the composer left for America. It’s a bubbling
scherzo which, if it is not in the same league as Bartók or
Kodály, is at least as good as anything by composers such as
Léo Weiner, who has not after all been quite as totally forgotten.
A recording of this Caprice by Ormandy with the Philadelphia
Orchestra was included in the collection issued in November
1999 to celebrate the centenary of his birth (review).
It has since disappeared from the catalogues.
At the same time if the music is not of the first rank, it is
by no means negligible. The most substantial work here, the
Children’s Symphony, is a series of charming short
tone-pictures where the depiction of The farm finds
Zádor out-Straussing Strauss’s sheep (in Don Quixote)
in his graphic depiction of farm animals. There’s a particularly
insistent cow lowing in the tuba. The booklet notes for this
movement refer to a “principal theme that recalls the traditional
children’s chant It’s raining, it’s pouring”; the resemblance
seems more to be to Bye baby bunting, but it is significant
that this quotation - if that is indeed what it is - is one
of the strongest themes in the work. The Csárdás Rhapsody
finds Zádor looking back on his Hungarian homeland with a wistful
series of glances that has, for once, a theme of real melodic
memorability. It is delivered at the outset by a solo clarinet
before the full orchestra takes over.
The Aria and Allegro which opens the disc begins atmospherically
and beautifully, but the brass when they enter disturb this
mood. The following Allegro with a number of fugue-like
passages brings to mind the neo-classicism of Bloch’s later
American works. The suite of Five Contrasts really
have very little in common with each other, sounding more like
a series of sketches for film scores of various genres.
The booklet note suggests that the Introduction evokes
the sounds of a film noir score. The fourth Scherzo
rustico has hints of Mahler in its depiction of a heavy-footed
country dance. The use of an accordion in this movement bears
witness to Zádor’s acute ear for orchestral effects. Unfortunately
the main theme of the fugue in the Finale, with its
weaving tendrils, lacks any real sense of melodic profile and
becomes submerged almost immediately.
Also unfortunately this recording does not really do the music
the full justice from which it might well benefit. We are told
in the booklet that the “Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV” (the
initials are not explained, but are those of the orchestra’s
patrons the Hungarian railway company) consists of “ninety professional
musicians”. They do not sound like that many here, or look like
that many in the booklet photograph. The strings in particular
sound under-manned, and the brass regularly dominate the picture
as soon as they enter. They relegate the violins to the middle
distance. You can hear that the players are working away furiously,
but all too often they are overwhelmed by their wind colleagues.
They are not helped either by the recording acoustic, a very
dry broadcasting studio which sounds cramped and unyielding.
It is surprising to note that the conductor is also credited
as the producer of this disc. One would have hoped that he would
have sought to rectify such matters in the recording suite,
even if the basically unglamorous sound of the studio was beyond
The playing, quite apart from matters of balance, is efficient
rather than inspired. The trumpet solo near to the beginning
of the Aria and Allegro is surely too loud, and disturbs
the tranquillity of the music as soon as it enters. The piccolo
solo in the Autumn pastorale, the second of the Five
Contrasts, lacks any sense of feeling. One realises that
the piccolo is not an instrument best equipped for romantic
warmth, but the sound here is very white and emotionless in
what one suspects could be a very attractive melody if handled
Listening to the similarly dry 1975 recordings of the suite
from the opera Christopher Columbus (with some horribly
strained choral singing) and the Studies confirm both
Zádor’s strengths and weaknesses as a composer. This is not
helped by the superimposition on the track of the suite of a
narrative recorded by Lionel Barrymore – who grotesquely pronounces
Requiem as Ree-qui-em! – nearly 25 years earlier.
The booklet notes in this new issue refer to Zádor’s setting
of Christopher Columbus as “one of his most successful
works”. On the basis of the examples on this disc it would appear
that his earlier pieces in general were his best. Perhaps exile
sapped his inspirational gifts. Could we perhaps be allowed
to hear more of his music, preferably in a more generous acoustic?
Zádor, despite his limitations, does not deserve the total neglect
that appears to have been his lot since his death.
Paul Corfield Godfrey