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Eugene ZÁDOR (1894–1977)
A Christmas Overture (1961) [8:36]
Biblical Triptych (1943) [30:04]
Rhapsody for Large Orchestra (1930) [20:54]
Fugue Fantasia (1958) [13:00]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij
rec. Studio 22 of Hungarian Radio, Budapest, 9–12 September 2015 (Overture; Triptych; Rhapsody); Studio 6, Hungarian Radio, Budapest, 11 September 2014 (Fugue). DDD
Booklet notes in English
World premičre recordings except Overture
NAXOS 8.573529 [67:15]

Now here's a burgeoning series. We have already had, in quick succession, three Zádor discs from Naxos: Dance Symphony (review ~ review); Oboe Concerto (review) and Five Contrasts (review). Add to these a Hungarian Caprice on an Ormandy historical from Biddulph and a rare item, his Christopher Columbus opera on Cambria (CD-1100).

Born in Hungary, Zádor studied with Richard Heuberger of Opernball fame and later with Reger. The 1920s saw him occupying teaching chairs in Vienna and Budapest. With the onset of hostilities and worse in the late 1930s he left Europe to live and make a living in Hollywood. He was recognised as an expert musician in the film music industry and was a trusted co-worker with Miklos Rozsa in bringing his film scores to orchestra in the 1960s. He collaborated with many other film music denizens including Kaper, Amfitheatrof, Waxman and Stothart. There was also an astonishing profusion of serious works in most of the classical genres in parallel with earning a crust or two in the Studios. His Hungarian ancestry echoed down the decades; as late as 1969 he wrote a Rhapsody for Cimbalom and Orchestra. His music is approachable even when edgy as it is in the last panel of the Biblical Triptych. The Zádor family have produced a handsome website here.

The Christmas Overture is a thing of wide-screen magnificence dating from 1961. The Christmas celebrated is one which Hollywood has blessed. Despite the understated titles - The Joy of Christmas, Sleigh Ride, Nativity, and Adoration - the music is very far from understated. This is a Charlton Heston yuletide season if ever I heard one. The half-hour three-part Biblical Triptych turns down the heat a notch, at least for some of the time. It is inspired by Thomas Mann's tetralogy "Joseph and His Brethren". The overture is fun. This impresses but does so without brassy magnificence. Its strengths lie in singing sincerity. The style lies in the more self-consciously beautiful pages written by Bloch and Respighi. The three movements are Joseph, David and Paul. In David Zádor rises to moments of abrasive triumph but even those are transitory and are points where Rozsa is evidently an influence. The Paul finale is troubled but not in a way that emulates the music of another California émigré resident, Arnold Schoenberg. This is film noir Mediterranean rather than Holy Land twelve-tone. Finally finding Respighian repletion the Paul movement is like the more dazzling pages of Vetrate di Chiesa.

The 1930 Rhapsody is a major single-movement structure. These pages rhapsodise and meditate rather than making colossal jagged statements. If this is representative then Zádor did not change unduly between his European and USA years. Some of the writing here is comparable with the intrinsic calm beauties of the Joseph movement from the Biblical Triptych. It includes some lovely sunset-warm writing for woodwind including clarinet and saxophone. There's also lushly high calorific writing for massed strings with unusually piercing and poignant sforzandi. The names of both Kodály and Delius might at various points occur to the innocent ear. Playful brilliance is also at play. One can see how apt Zádor's gifts were to Hollywood's needs. The 1958 Fugue Fantasia is the latest work here. Its string writing echoes the searing ways of the Rhapsody while the fugal element is freely applied and suggested rather than being a shackle to which the music is pinioned or by which it is suffocated. Even so this piece would work well with Weinberger's Schwanda Fugue (review) or the super-upholstered fugal orchestrations favoured in the first half of the last century by various composers (review) and by Stokowski (review).

The liner-note in English only is by Zádor-Rozsa expert Frank K Dewald.

Previous releases in this series have had a mixed reception here. This is the first one I have heard and its many attractions kick the trend.

Rob Barnett



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