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The Hungarian Viola
Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)
Romanian Folk Dances (1950) [6:36]
Arioso (1926) [2:19]
Erzsébet SZÖNYI (b.1924)
French Suite (1984) [9:39]
Antal DORÁTI (1906-1988)
Adagio (1987) [13:00]
József SOPRONI (b.1930)
Sonatina for viola and piano (1964) [8:41]
László WEINER (1916-1944)
Viola Sonata (c.1939) [15:46]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Romance oubliée (1880) [4:15]
Lajos SZÜCS (b.1948)
Romance for solo viola (2004 rev 2007) [7:20]
Máté Szücs (viola)
Oliver Triendl (piano)
rec. October 2012 and April 2013, Siemens-Villa, Berlin

With the exception of Liszt’s songful and melancholy Romance oubliée all the pieces in this exploratory disc were written in the twentieth-century. Though ‘The Hungarian Viola’ has a whiff of the didactic about it, there isn’t a huge lineage of works for the viola in the way that, say, Lionel Tertis or William Primrose drew out works from composers, thereby establishing a new repertoire. Even the example of Bartók’s Viola Concerto, never quite finished, and which was written for Primrose, is somewhat tangential to the current of music pursued in this disc. This consists solely of viola-and-piano music.

Ferenc Farkas’s tangy, folklorically-inflected orchestral music has been well represented on the Toccata label of late. I find a little goes rather a long way but if sampled a bit at a time, there’s much pleasure to be encountered. The Romanian Folk Dances of 1950 are typical Farkas, written for viola, violin or clarinet and piano. There are hints of Bartók’s earlier folk excavations, a fine cimbalom imitation, and plenty of gypsy styling. It’s not got the earthy sophistication of Enescu – who really was Romanian – but it is happy, vibrant music. His much earlier Arioso is a rich romance. Erzsébet Szönyi, born in 1924, studied in Paris and her 1984 French Suite is surely an homage to the country of her youthful studies. There are hints of neo-classicism but also, amidst the Baroque-titled movements, suggestions in the Allemande of Martinů, a fellow Francophile who had his own way of channelling the baroque. The Gigue finale of this communicative work is a sheer delight. Antal Doráti wrote his Adagio for the 60th birthday of his wife, the pianist Ilse von Alpenheim. Don’t be misled by the jewel case tracking; this lasts a full 13 minutes, not three. Composed the year before his death, it is a kind of leave-taking, with an austerely melancholic cast coupled with calm consoling paragraphs too. But there is also an edgy, unsettled, unyielding element at work which, with the piano’s tolling and almost Rosenkavalier-like figures, all generate plenty of interest.

A very different kind of work is József Soproni’s 1964 Viola Sonatina, folksy and Bartókian, with expressive yearning in the slow movement, a warm Aria, and topped by a perky finale. László Weiner represents Hungary’s dark past. He died in 1944 in a Slovakian labour camp. The Viola Sonata, dating from c.1939, is full of free-flowing and wide-ranging, attractive themes. He too employs folkloric elements in the central Intermezzo, where there’s some witty byplay between the two instruments, though the finale reverts to the free-flowing quality of the opening, ending confidently, indeed optimistically. To end there is a piece by Lajos Szücs, father of the viola soloist on this disc Máté Szücs. Originally conceived for the composer’s cellist brother, it was recast for his viola-playing son a few years later. It’s not yet published and is performed from the manuscript – a traditional sort of piece which makes its points eloquently and attractively.

The recording was made in the Siemens-Villa, Berlin, and has been very well judged, whilst the booklet notes are helpful and to the point. Much of this repertoire is little known and some previously unrecorded, which makes it doubly valuable. Máté Szücs is a good player, though somewhat tonally light, so that he sometimes seems to skirt the more expressive elements of the music. His partnership with Oliver Triendl sounds pretty solid, and together they largely succeed in projecting these rather obscure pieces with care and character.

Jonathan Woolf