Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Háry János Suite [24:21]
Dances of Galánta [16:56]
Ernö DOHNÁNYI (1877-1960)
Konzertstück for Cello and Orchestra, Op 12 [24:03]
János Starker (cello)
Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. 22 November 1988 (Háry János), 9 September 1989 (Galánta), 7 June 1990 (Dohnányi), Seattle Center Opera House, Washington, USA
NAXOS 8.572749 [65:19]
We shouldn’t be surprised anymore when the Seattle Symphony and Gerard Schwarz turn in idiomatic performances of late-romantic showpieces. Even after their marvelous Rimsky-Korsakov (review, review, review) and Borodin (review), this still caught me off guard. You’d think I’d have learnt my lesson already. These recordings, from 1989 and 1990, are terrific. The highlight is actually Kodály’s beloved Dances of Galánta: I approached with fear, because the 17-minute timing is much longer than the classic Dorati/Philharmonia Hungarica (15:08), but I honestly don’t know where the two extra minutes came from. Gerard Schwarz shapes the slow opening dances with such lusciousness and rhythmic flexibility that if they’re under tempo I’m not sure it’s noticeable; plus the Seattle Symphony has a sound big and rich enough to sustain attention over the longer span. After an unsteady horn at the beginning, all the woodwind solos are very fine indeed, the gradual increase in excitement is skillfully handled, and the exuberant finale only falls slightly short of Dorati’s for sheer velocity and vibrancy.
In the Háry János suite, the slower times do occasionally tell, most of all in the here rather foreboding opening movement, but it’s not really something I can complain about. It is a very good performance: the Viennese Musical Clock chimes out with cheery accuracy, the following viola solo is a bit square but still ear-catching, and the entire ‘Song’ is fantastic. The Seattle Symphony’s rich, boldly colorful sound is at its best in the biggest climaxes, like in a battle scene which builds to wonderful heights from a measured initial pace, and also in basically any of the excellent woodwind solos - another element familiar from their newer Naxos recordings. It is a general truth that the composer’s use of winds and trumpets correlates directly with the vividness of the playing.
Ernö von Dohnányi’s Konzertstück for cello and orchestra is less colorful than the Kodály works, giving the program a contemplative heart. Though it plays continuously, and is given one track here, the work is in three movements, the first setting out in a confident mood before the cello commences a restrained, rather Brahmsian dialogue between different emotions. The slow movement begins after about six minutes, and is brief but poignant; the way that the cello, flute, oboe, and clarinet converse may remind one of Dvořák. The finale is the longest and most substantial of the three, recalling earlier material and containing a cadenza and an ending which is the best, most moving part of an impassioned work. János Starker is the excellent soloist.
This release might be most valuable for the Dohnányi, as played by Starker; the other widely available complete recordings are by Wallfisch with Mackerras and by Alban Gerhardt on Hyperion, though I have heard neither; I assume based on the cellists that they’re excellent. Starker recorded the piece for EMI but in a version with slight cuts. The Kodály won’t be mandatory for anyone who has a recording like Dorati’s or more recently Lawrence Foster’s, but it is nevertheless very good, and it makes for a very satisfying CD. I’ll be returning to the Seattle Dances of Galánta a great deal more than I expected. The sound of these Delos recordings (1988-1990) is basically like new, in a slightly roomier acoustic than the Seattle Symphony’s new Benaroya Hall, but otherwise up to today’s standards. The temptation to spot-mike soloists, including Starker, is resisted, creating an authentic in-the-audience ambience. A very desirable CD with a program that should attract interest.
A very desirable CD, especially for the Dohnányi but the Kodály is better than you’d expect.