László LAJTHA (1892 - 1963)
Suite pour orchestra, Op.19 [21:38]
In Memoriam, Op.35 [20:32]
Symphony No. 1, Op.24 [19:53]
Pécs Symphony Orchestra/Nicolás Pasquet
rec. 1996, Ferenc Liszt Concert Hall, Pécs, Hungary, May
NAXOS 8.573643 [60.02]

‘How did you enjoy that music?’

‘It was fine.’

‘Are you suggesting it wasn’t that good? You don’t seem too enthusiastic?’

‘No, it was fine, really.’

There is such a phenomenon as well-made music, which has much of interest, and yet, somehow, does not linger in the memory for very long. There is nothing to dislike, nothing less than well-crafted, nothing to give offence. This CD, at least for me, falls rather neatly into that category.

Lajtha was a composer very popular in Hungary. He was a prolific, and on this evidence, very competent composer. As well as the obligatory nine symphonies, he composed in a range of genres, including ten quartets, ballets and film music. One can hear at once why he was so successful at the latter—his late-romantic style, orchestral mastery and sense of colour mean that he can quickly capture a variety of moods, tunefully and giving offence to none.

The First Symphony, a cheerful piece, has much melodic interest, including the use of folk-tunes. Lajtha was, after all, a keen collector of Hungarian folk music and a member of the International Folk Music Council. But I did not find the piece especially memorable or distinctive, even after half a dozen hearings. There is nothing to dislike, but nowhere did I find the composer’s distinctive voice.

The most substantial work on the CD is In Memoriam, written during the Second World War in tribute to its victims. The composer knew what he was writing about, having served for four years as a frontline artillery officer in the First World War. It was dedicated to the BBC and premiered in London by Sir Adrian Boult. The piece has some wide dynamic contrasts and some moments of silence, and is not without interest. Lajtha’s music had some international appeal, with much performed abroad, but it has not established itself in the repertory.

This recording first appeared on the sister label of Naxos, Marco Polo, in the 1990s. Its reissue in a cheaper format may bring it to a wider audience. It fills a significant gap in our awareness of twentieth-century Hungarian music in very good and committed performances by Nicolás Pasquet and the Pécs Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Pannon Philharmonic Orchestra.
Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Bob Stevenson

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