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Eugene ZÁDOR (1894-1977)
Elegy and Dance (1954) [12.43]
Oboe Concerto (1975)* [12.35]
Divertimento for strings (1954) [17.00]
Studies for orchestra (1969) [25.49]
László Hadady (oboe)*
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij
rec. Studio 6, Hungarian Radio, Budapest, 9-11 September 2011
NAXOS 8.572549 [68.21]

Last year I welcomed a Naxos CD of the orchestral music of Eugene Zádor from the same performers (review). While I recognised that the composer’s lack of sheer melodic memorable qualities was a problem I suggested that further exploration of his output would be welcome. At the time I wrote that review this second instalment was already in the can, and I am delighted to make the acquaintance again of a composer whose neglect since his death has been almost total.
In my earlier review I suggested that the music that Zádor wrote in Europe before his departure for exile in America, which was espoused by conductors such as Furtwängler and Weingartner, had more sheer profile than his later works written during and after his spell in Hollywood working as an orchestrator for fellow-exiles such as Miklós Rózsa. I suggested that exploration of his earlier music might prove a fruitful field. In the event what we have here is a collection of music entirely written in America, but the profile of these works demonstrates that the composer’s inspiration - which I had suggested might have been sapped by exile - did remain with him even in his later music. In particular the Elegie and Dance - to employ the odd combination of French and English spelling used on this disc and presumably by the composer himself - is a piece which is more impressive than any of the music from his American period we heard on the earlier CD. Think of a Debussian Faune seen in the clear light of early morning rather than the impressionist haze of a summer midday, and you will get some idea of the style of the Elegie. The following Dance is more reminiscent of Bax in works such as The Happy Forest or the Dance of Wild Irravel. So the music is not precisely of mind-blowing originality, but so what? It has an immediately attractive style, and the melodic profile is considerably higher than in most of the works on the earlier CD.
Both the Oboe Concerto and the Divertimento employ an orchestra consisting of strings only, and the parallels I suggested in my earlier review to the later American music of Bloch are clear here also. Again the Oboe Concerto has also a distinctly English melodic cut, with overtones not only of Vaughan Williams in his concerto, but also of Finzi in the Clarinet Concerto. Hadady performs it well, with a nicely fruity tone, and makes the most of the rather unexpected closing moments. The Divertimento has a jolly bounce in the outer movements to counterbalance a romantic warmth in the central Andantino. We are told in the booklet notes that the latter is “the composer’s most-performed piece”, but that is really saying rather little and the work has never previously appeared on a recording. It is strange that music of such immediate approachability as this should have totally disappeared since the composer’s death.
The Studies for Orchestra have however previously appeared on CD. Indeed it is the only recording of Zádor’s music in the current catalogue to have been issued before the first Naxos CD last year. That earlier reading was given by the Westphalian Symphony Orchestra under Paul Freeman as the filler to a 1975 recording of the suite from Zádor’s opera Christopher Columbus on Cambria CD-1100. I mentioned this earlier disc in my previous review, where I commented unfavourably on the performance of the operatic suite - with a most peculiar narration delivered unidiomatically by John Barrymore - and complained in particular of the very dry recorded sound. The performance and recording here are a considerable improvement on that 1975 reading, and indeed make the work - a collection of eight movements exploring extremes of orchestral colour - sound much more impressive than before.
Mind you, the composer rather overstated his case when he observed: “A flute has a high C, and nobody ever uses it, and a contrabassoon has a low B flat, and nobody ever uses it; but I used them, because if they weren’t useable, they wouldn’t be there.” Well, neither of those statements is literally true. Composers have regularly used the flute not only up to C but also to the D above it - see Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, for example - and have also regularly employed the lowest notes of the double bassoon which indeed have the distinction of being the lowest notes available in the orchestra, below any notes obtainable from the tuba or the double basses. Never mind, it is a pardonable exaggeration. Unfortunately however the Studies are not only the longest work on this CD, but they are also the least interesting. The decided lack of melodic profile in the music which I noted last year rears its head again here.
I complained in my earlier review about the very dry acoustic of the broadcasting studio that was used for these recordings, and little has be done to improve the sound here. However I also complained about the internal balance of the orchestra, and in particular the backward sound of the strings. Here things are now considerably better. Two of the works employ string orchestra only, and although one could imagine, to advantage, a larger body of players particularly in the Divertimento, where there are places where the score seems to demand a richer sound, the internal balance is clean and precise. In the Elegie and Dance the woodwind players, particularly the flute in the Elegie, could have been placed at a greater distance to our benefit, giving the music a more romantically resonant sound. The horns - the only brass employed - do sound very far forward indeed. That said, the Dance sparkles and the violins are now nicely present in the audio spectrum. Indeed, all round both the performances and recording here are better than on the earlier Naxos CD, and whet one’s appetite to hear more music by this composer. There is apparently a great deal of it which awaits exploration.
The orchestra is sponsored by the Hungarian Railways; hence the MÁV suffix. This presumably explains the rather odd CD cover with its picture of a child in Hungarian peasant costume waiting on a railway platform, which otherwise would appear to have nothing to do with the works on this CD all of which were written in America. The earlier CD contained two earlier pieces by Zádor which had decidedly Hungarian overtones. I would hope that future issues in this valuable series of recordings would allow us to hear more of the music written before his departure for exile. It also might be an improvement if later issues - can we hope for more? - could be recorded in a more resonant acoustic.
If you missed the earlier Naxos CD, I would recommend that you explore that disc in addition to the current instalment. You will be rewarded by music that is instantly approachable and, to use an old cliché, does not deserve the neglect which it has suffered. Give Zádor a chance.
Paul Corfield Godfrey