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László LAJTHA (1892–1963)
Symphonie Les Soli Op.33 (1941) [31:29]
Sinfonietta No.1 Op.43 (1946) [19:45]
Sinfonietta No.2 Op.62 (1956) [24:05]
Budapest Chamber Symphony/Simone Fontanelli (Les Soli), Imre Rohmann (Sinf. 1), Péter Csaba (Sinf. 2)
rec. live, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 8 December 2012 (Sinf. 1), 26 January 2013 (Sinf. 2) and 23 February 2013 (Les Soli)

Lajtha was an important Hungarian composer with a substantial output to his credit. There are numerous works in almost every genre. The backbone of his catalogue lies in his nine symphonies and nine string quartets. Some of you may remember that all the symphonies were recorded by Marco Polo whereas Hungaroton released recordings of the string quartets. Hungaroton also issued some choral music of which the splendid Magnificat Op.60 (1954) definitely counts as a real masterpiece. Thus Lajtha's music was certainly not neglected as far as recordings go but these have not always been readily available which is, as far as I am concerned, a pity – to say the least.

This recent release from the Budapest Music Centre has much to offer indeed since two of these works had never been recorded before, if I am not mistaken. The third (Sinfonietta No.1 Op.43) was once recorded by Hungaroton.

Lajtha's music, while unmistakably retaining its Hungarian roots, sometimes tended towards Neo-classicism which is noticeable in the earlier work here, the Symphonie “Les Soli” Op.33 of 1941. It is scored for strings, harp and percussion and each of the four movements has a soloistic part for a particular instrument. Thus the first movement Concert joyeux has an important solo part for the double bass; the player here is sadly left unnamed. It is probably the most Neo-classical movement of the work. The second movement Gilles “Hommage ŕ Watteau” is a minuet of sorts with a sizeable part for solo viola. The French painter Watteau and his “Gilles” were favourites of Lajtha and inspired several works such as the ballet Capriccio Op.39 (1944) on Marco Polo 8.223668 and the opera buffa Le Chapeau bleu Op.51 (1948/50). The third movement Pastorale d'automne is a beautiful mood impression featuring solo cello whereas the final movement Féérique conjures up some fairytale mood, full of pizzicatos and “scurrying semiquavers”. It is scored for violin and orchestra.

Lajtha's Hungarian roots are certainly to the fore in one of his most popular pieces, the Sinfonietta No.1 Op.43 (1946). It is in three well-proportioned movements so that this compact work never outstays its welcome. The outer movements are on the whole light in mood, uncomplicated and easy-going but the central movement carries the emotional weight of the work. It is a real tour de force in string writing: divisi strings weave a delicate, subtle sound carpet over which a beautifully soaring line for the solo violin unfolds in all freedom. This is undoubtedly the finest and most moving moment in the entire work.

In total contrast, the Sinfonietta No.2 Op.62 (1956) is a rather weightier work. It is more severe or austere but the mastery in writing for strings is still there. The Second Sinfonietta, too, is in three movements of which the most substantial is the central Lent et calme. This is comparable to the slow movement of the First Sinfonietta. Its prevailing mood is peaceful but some darker undercurrents threaten the calm surface on two short-lived angry outbursts.

These three superbly crafted works certainly enhance Lajtha's status as one of Hungary's most distinguished composers. Incidentally Bartók considered the 28-year-old composer to be one of the most promising in Hungary. It is also very nice to be able to hear this music played with such zest, confidence and commitment by musicians who have this music in their blood.

So, in short, if Lajtha's symphonies have appealed to you, you should waste no time in hearing this generously filled release.

Hubert Culot



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