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Eugene ZÁDOR (1894-1977)
Festival Overture (1963) [10.10]
Variations on a Hungarian folksong (1919) [30.04]
Symphony No. 3 ‘Dance Symphony’ (1936) [30.35]
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV/Mariusz Smolij
rec. Studio 6, Hungarian Radio, Budapest, 8-12 September 2014
NAXOS 8.573274 [71.03]

This is the third in a series of Naxos releases from these performers highlighting the music of Eugene Zádor, who left Hungary for American exile in 1939 and found employment in Hollywood as the chosen orchestrator for his fellow-Hungarian Miklós Rózsa.

Reviewing the first volume some three years ago, I suggested that his absence from Europe seemed to have had a decidedly deleterious effect on his inspiration, and that despite the commercial success which attended many of the scores he wrote in America his earlier works written in Hungary showed a more formidable talent. I regretted that in the second volume of the series we were not given the opportunity to hear more of his pre-exile scores, and therefore welcome the chance which we are given here to encounter two substantial works from his earlier period.

The Festival Overture which opens this disc serves rather well to illustrate my earlier reservations regarding Zadór’s later music. It sounds for all the world like a march written for one of Rózsa’s Hollywood epics, a sword-and-sandal type of production perhaps; but it lacks the sheer thematic memorability of Rózsa, brash in scoring rather than achieving the overwhelming experience at which Zadór was clearly aiming. It was taken up by Zubin Mehta for the opening of the Los Angeles Music Center, and doubtless worked well as a celebratory piece; but it is by no means a neglected masterpiece.

The Hungarian theme forming the basis for the early set of variations which follows immediately afterwards comes as quite a shock, very straightforward in a manner that clearly betrays the relative youth of the composer at the time – he was in his twenties. Some of the more adventurous later variations have a really attractive tone, the six-minute Serenade which forms the fourth variation displaying a delicate orchestral palette and employing a violin solo which is played with poise by an undeservedly anonymous player. The Foxtrot which forms the sixth variation, complete with a jazzy piano solo and woodblocks, comes as quite a surprise – and would possibly have shocked audiences in the period immediately after the First World War, although by the time it was premičred in Vienna in 1927 Europe had begun to come to terms with the jazz age. The eighth variation is a Csárdás which with its skirling violins recalls the mood of Franz Schmidt’s gipsy music for Esmeralda in his 1914 opera Notre Dame although it builds to a more upbeat and exciting climax. The disc describes this as the world premičre recording “of the complete version”; this apparently refers to an earlier 1970s release on the Orion label which contained a mere ten minutes of excerpts, but it is certainly a piece that deserves to be heard at full length.

The Dance Symphony was premičred in Vienna under the baton of no less distinguished a conductor than Hans Knappertsbusch, and might well have led to greater European recognition if the composer had not fled Vienna a year later on the very day of Hitler’s Anschluss. It is described here as Zadór’s third symphony, although his website only lists one earlier symphony described as Sinfonia Technica and written in 1931. This later Tanzsinfonie is a positively romantic and indeed Straussian work, and conveys no sense of the political turmoil which was consuming Europe at the time. It really needs more sheer richness of violin tone (as for example at track 13, 4.18 and 6.20) to be fully convincing. As in the earlier releases in this Naxos series, the generally expert orchestral playing is best described as conscientious rather than whole-hearted; and the recording is once again much too dry in the acoustic of the same Budapest recording studio of which I complained in my previous reviews of discs in this series. This appears to be the work's world premičre recording.

Nonetheless I am very grateful that my request in 2013 for Naxos to explore Zádor’s music from his European years has been taken up so enthusiastically in this latest release. The composer’s music seems to have been almost totally neglected since his death, and it deserves better. I look forward to future releases from his presumably substantial catalogue of scores although most of the works listed on his website date from his American years. I would just add a perhaps wishful hope that any future recordings could be transferred to a more sympathetic acoustic which might serve to supply greater string resonance.

Paul Corfield Godfrey


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