Eugene ZÁDOR (1894-1977)
Aria and Allegro (1967) [10:35]
Five contrasts (1963) [19:56]
A Children’s Symphony (1941) [16:54]
Hungarian Capriccio (1935) [9:41]
Csárdás Rhapsody (1940) [9:20]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij
rec. Hungarian Radio Studio, Budapest, 13-16 September 2010
NAXOS 8.572548 [66:49]

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 his control.
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 more sympathetically.
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

Zádor, despite his limitations, does not deserve the total neglect that appears to have been his lot since his death.