Leo WEINER (1885-1960)
Pastorale phantasie and fugue, Op.23 (1934) [23:17]
Romance for cello, harp and string orchestra, Op.29 (1949) [[10:07]
Concertino for piano and orchestra, Op.15 (1923) [20:36]
Carnival for small orchestra, Op.8 (1907) [11:10]
Violin Concerto No.2 in F sharp minor, Op.45 (1957) [25:44]*
Janos Starker (cello)
György Sebők (piano)
Melinda Felletár (harp)
Antal Szalai (violin)
Budapest Chamber Symphony/Tibor Varga, Zsolt Hamar*
No recording details

Leó Weiner is slowly taking his rightful place as a significant creative force in Hungarian music of the twentieth century. This twofer—the second disc contains only the Violin Concerto No.2, however—is devoted wholly to his music and features some elite performers.

The Pastorale, phantaisie et fugue is a flowing but not wholly untroubled work where warm late-romanticism meets neo-baroque. The lyricism of the central movement has elements of Hungarian folk music but they are more sublimated or cosmopolitan than pronounced; in fact, there are a few passages that might put listeners in mind of Britten’s Bridge Variations, not least some gravely beautiful and well calibrated writing for the string choirs. Again, whereas the finale may quietly evoke Hungarian bagpipe music, there’s no Bartókian ethnomusicological slant here—rather it’s good-humoured and full of bouncy figuration.

The Romance of cello, harp and string orchestra is notable because, as the disc relates, it marked Janos Starker’s last recording. This ten-minute piece is derived from a much earlier 1919 work for cello and piano and its lyricism is endemic. Starker sounds rather recessed in the balance but there’s poignancy in this seeming recession—the harp remains well-balanced. A much better–known work is the Concertino for piano and orchestra as it garnered Weiner quite some esteem; indeed, it was his most popular piece. Lissom, clean-limbed and avoiding romantic bombast it’s governed by a kind of eighteenth century aesthetic; melodically pliant neo-classicism. Cast in two movements the finale has some breezy fanfare figures and plenty of dynamism. György Sebők is the eminent soloist. Carnival is a witty and genial humoresque with plenty of deft colou: only the bold climax sounds a mite predictable.

The Violin Concerto, Op.45 is based on an early Violin Sonata No.2 and is played with great tonal sweetness by Antal Szalai. Its late-Romanticism sometimes suggests a smoothed-out Brahms but there is elegance here that draws the ear. The earlier stages are not too colourfully orchestrated but by the time of the second movement Presto Weiner has established verve and in the slow movement a warm but not ultimately especially personalised profile. The finale is notable for some witty characterisation of a March, where chatty winds act as vivid onlookers. Nevertheless, whilst well played the Concerto doesn’t show Weiner at quite his most inspired.

There are three world premičre recordings in this release—the Pastorale phantaisie et fugue, Carnival and the Violin Concerto. This adds substantially to its attractiveness, as does the fine booklet and, not least, the splendid performances. Note that Tibor Varga, veteran fiddle player, is on the podium to direct a substantial part of the programme.

Jonathan Woolf

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