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Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)
Songs from Seven Decades

Andrea Meláth (mezzo soprano); Tünde Szabóki (soprano); István Dominkó (piano)
rec. June 2015, Hungaroton Studios, Budapest
No song lyrics in the booklet; downloadable from the Hungaroton website
HUNGAROTON HCD32770 [76:14]

The music of Ferenc Farkas has been increasingly well served by Toccata but Hungaroton has certainly not neglected one of Hungary’s leading composers. The Songs from Seven Decades are just that, given his long life, and span the years 1923-96. He set the vast majority of these songs in his native language but there are four settings in French, four in Latin, and one in English. You will need to pursue the lyrics from the Hungaroton website, as no texts or translations have been printed in the booklet. There are no paraphrases either. These may be tricky issues for Anglophones at whom this disc is, in any case directed, as the notes are presented first in English and then in Hungarian.

The music roves across the years in no chronological sequence. Thus we are introduced to the charming Five Troubadour Songs of 1947, French melodies with simple accompaniments, with Sándor Weöres’ Hungarian texts written after the music was set – an interesting way to go about things. An Esther Chain (1936) was written shortly after studies with Respighi in Rome and take in simplicity, relative stridency and a genial, rather folkloric element in the last song not unlike Bartók or Janáček’s settings of folk melodies.

Elements of earlier cosmopolitanism can be felt in the very early Three Songs of 1923-25 in which a lounge style can be felt at work. Dashing forward to The Sylph from 1996 and we find a drolly repetitious sequential figure. The programme has been constructed in such a way that deft, light-hearted settings – into which category I’d put A Turn from 1939 – contrast with more obviously colourful ones like Flame. He always responds well to the sixteenth-century lines of his favourite French poet, Louise Labé, whose Sonnet VII is here; he infuses it with some ‘early music’ cadences but not too many to render it pastiche.

Baudelaire’s Spleen is a flame around which many a musical moth has flickered. Farkas is no exception but his setting is one of the very best in this selection and indeed one of the best single settings of his that I’ve heard – albeit I’m not claiming exhaustive familiarity with the 400-odd of his song settings. Stylistically Farkas was a conservative drawing on a range of influences – troubadour, Biedermeier, folk. His sequences of settings, such as Flower Gardens and Old Cemetery are epigrammatic and compressed but the four existing Marian settings written between 1933 and 1976 have greater heft. These have a quietly glowing expressive feel, however reserved, that sustain and impress.

The songs are shared between mezzo Andrea Meláth and soprano Tünde Szabóki. Both are characterful singers and clearly attuned to Farkas’ attractively shaped settings. Meláth bears the greater burden but Szabóki gets the all-important Rosarium, those Marian pieces. Pianist István Dominkó is a tower of strength bringing to life the supportive tissue of Farkas’ writing with sympathy and discretion.

The booklet notes are crisply done (but note again the absence of texts) whilst the recording is perfectly fine, neither too cool nor too resonant.

Jonathan Woolf

Disc contents
Öt francia trubadúr dallam/Five troubadour songs (1947) [5:02]
Eszterlánc/An Esther chain (1936) [6:15]
Három dal/Three songs (1923-25) [4:47]
Mély esti csendben/In the deep evening silence (1928) [2:16]
The Sylph (1996) [1:10]
Gyöngy/A pearl (1939) [1:32]
Fordulat/A turn (1939) [1:46]
Láng/Flame (1941) [1:24]
Sonnet VII de Louise Labé (1944) [3:03]
Nyárvégi csillagok/Stars at the end of summer (1940) [3:12]
Milyen?/What is it like? (1996) [0:50]
For Isabelle (1996) [0:45]
Spleen (1997) [1:28]
Két dal Kisfaludy Sándor verseire/Two songs to poems by Sándor Kisfaludy (1957) [5:38] Schumann módjára/In the manner of Schumann [1:46]
Két pad/Two Benches [4:48]
Songs from the "Twelfth night" by Shakespeare: No. 3 Come away (1954) [2:06]
Virágoskert/Flower garden (1989-90) [9:45]
Régi temet/ Old cemetery (1995) [4:07]
Rosarium (1933-76) [8:47]
Három dal Shakespeare "Ahogy tetszik" cím vígjátékából/Three songs from the comedy "As you like it" by Shakespeare (1937) [5:28]



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