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Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)
Choral Music
Missa Secunda in honorem Sanctae Margaritae (1964-68) [11:49]
Jani Pannonii Epigramma de suo libro (1960) [1:51]
Hymnus ad Sanctum Emericum (1977) [2:38]
Rubáiyát (1985) [4:14]
Ének Szent Erzsébetröl (1981) [2:30]
Emmaus: Cantata after St Luke (1985) [11:20]
Ave Maris Stella (1999) [1:59]
Je Suis l’Archange de Dieu (1949) [1:00]
Dans Cette Étable (1950) [1:37]
Quitter, Pasteurs (1948) [1:49]
It Came Upon the Midnight Clear (1948) [1:32]
Christmas Cantata (1970) [19:24]
Ascolta/Ascolta Chamber Ensemble/Peter Broadbent
Helen Smee (organ)
rec. January 2015, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London
Texts and translations included
TOCCATA TOCC0296 [63:48]

Toccata has shown exemplary faith in Ferenc Farkas as this is the fifth recording in their stable of recordings devoted to this fine and long-lived Hungarian composer. As well as their series of orchestral works (see reviews of Volume 1 and Volume 2) and one disc devoted to wind quintets (review) the choral music is now coming under scrutiny and is the subject of this latest release.

Farkas was something of a connoisseur of poetry and being a fluent speaker of eight languages was largely averse to setting translations. In his texts he sought associative detail and colour. It’s not surprising that early works included settings of folk songs but as he matured he cast his eye further afield and we can feel something of that search in the church music that is this disc’s focus. Such music largely dates from the early 1960s onwards.

The Missa Secunda in honorem Sanctae Margaritae was composed in 1964 but subject to a series of revisions, the most important being the inclusion of the Sanctus and Benedictus. As his St Andrew Mass had caused problems for the performers this later work is deliberately crafted in a more approachable, technically easier style. It’s diatonic, compact and very appealing, some solo string lines arising very naturally from the music’s texture to add commentaries of their own. The Benedictus is especially warm. Emmaus, a Cantata after St Luke dates from 1985 and sets the English translation of verses from chapter 24 of Luke’s gospel. Farkas has the gift of knowing precisely when to simplify and when to amplify the texts. Since the passages concern the days after Christ’s crucifixion when Cleopas relates the story of the discovery of his tomb, it requires sensitive word setting. The amplitude and breadth of the music is especially distinctive.

The other large-scale work is the Christmas Cantata of 1970, set for narrator, mixed choir, organ and an instrumental ensemble. Asked to compose something for the opening of a newly restored church Farkas reached back to a couple of pre-existing Christmas works and incorporated them into this eleven-movement cantata, an English-language setting bar two movements set in Latin. Elements here must reflect an earlier interest in folkloric music as there are some rustic cadences as well as passages that sound as if they could derive from a musical – I’m thinking in particular of the trio On that night of beauty (track 21). With a puckish pastorale for organ and a concluding tableau that wraps up the work deftly this is an engaging, light-hearted work.

Farkas was especially effective at crafting characterful choral miniatures and there are a number of examples here, a number not reaching the two-minute mark. The intervallic leaps of Jani Pannonii Epigramma de suo libro point to a 1960 jeu d’esprit whilst the more serious Rubáiyát is more angular and chromatic. The quartet of popular Christmas songs – three French, one English – reflect his enthusiasm for settings in the original language and also his unashamed love of simplicity.

László Gombos, who knew Farkas, contributes a splendid booklet note, to which I’m indebted for detail. This is the first recording from a new group, Ascolta, which has young professional singers and post-graduate students in its ranks. It has some strong-voiced vocal members and blending is not always immaculate. Peter Broadbent, no stranger to Hungarian music, directs them with imagination and control. Those who have followed the Farkas trail thus far will want to expand their horizons with this disc.

Jonathan Woolf



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