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Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)
Orchestral Music - Volume Two: Music for Strings
Choreae hungaricae; Three cycles of Hungarian Dances from the 17th century fort string orchestra Parts II and III (1961) [9:22]
Aria e rondo all’ungherese, for two violins and string orchestra (1994) [7:36]
Musica penatonica, for string orchestra (1945) [9:50]
András Jelky: Suite for string orchestra and piano (1973-74) [17:20]
Concertino for trumpet and string orchestra (1984) [12:59]
Finnish Popular Dances for string orchestra (1935) [5:48]
Partita all’ungherese: Hungarian Dances and Tunes from the 16th Century all’ungherese (1974) [9:16]
Gyula Stuller and János Rolla (violins)
Laszlo Toth (trumpet)
Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra
rec. September 2013, Instituto Italiano di Cultura, Budapest
TOCCATA TOCC0184 [72:52]

This is the second in Toccata’s series devoted to the orchestral music of Hungarian composer Ferenc Farkas (see review of Volume 1). String works are the focus, dating from 1935 to 1994 and, as before, there are world premiere recordings to entice the prospective purchaser tempted by Farkas’ genial and often Baroque-tinged writing.
 
The Chorea Hungaricae is a 1961 reworking for chamber orchestra of some seventeenth-century dance tunes he had originally collected for a Hungarian film score in 1942 but subsequently arranged for different instrumental forces. The wind quintet version, for instance, is on TOCC0019. For the chamber orchestra version he selected groups of pieces from three original sources and Toccata presents the second and third books of the cycle, altogether containing eleven brief dances. These attractive pieces often have harmonised melodies courtesy of Farkas. The easy-going Aria e rondo all’ungherese takes anonymous eighteenth-century melodies and serves them up, sweetly lyrical, for the two violin soloists. Abandon thoughts of the concerto grosso or solo and ripieno; this is a much more sugary confection.
 
A starker impression is left by the early Musica pentatonica which explores elements of twelve-tone though cast in baroque-form movements – Toccata, Aria and Fuga. There’s a vague hint of chinoiserie in the central Aria and the fugue is crisp and springy. The picaresque adventures of András Jelky were characterised in a work for string orchestra and piano in 1973-74. Jelky (1738-83) was a serial captive whose misfortunes (captured by - but surviving - pirates and cannibals) and subsequent rise to eminence in the East in the eighteenth-century make Robinson Crusoe’s shipwreck sound like a tea party. Rhythmically exciting, there’s a lot of Hungarian folk ethos throughout, as well as local colour as he journeys far and wide. Some non-traditional techniques, such as using the bow against the body of the violins, add zest.
 
The Concertino for trumpet (1984) is couched in sonata form, typically concise, and well-orchestrated and well-scaled for the forces concerned. The best movement is the central one of three, a quite spare meditation of some spiritual depth. The earliest work dates from 1935 and is the set of Finnish Popular Dances, product of his work as a film composer. They are very light, brief and fluffy and make few interpretative demands. Nor, for that matter, does the Partita, which uses sixteenth-century – largely - Hungarian source material. Farkas wrote it to bring this music to wider attention. Harmonies are tasteful, and the music is catchy.
 
The music throughout is performed with warmth and buoyancy in a well-judged acoustic of the Italian Cultural Centre in Budapest. It is fatal to listen to too much in one go, especially the suite-like material. Taken as nourishment, slice by slice, these genial and mostly undemanding confections will prove enjoyable, though hardly indispensable.
 
Jonathan Woolf