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Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Háry János: Suite (1925-27) [21:37]
Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song for Orchestra The Peacock (1939) [22:58]
Psalmus Hungaricus, Op. 13 (1923) [19:04]
Dances of Galánta (1934) [14:01]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Dance Suite, Sz77 BB86 (1923) [15:43]
Music for strings, percussion and celesta, Sz106 BB114 (1936) [27:58]
William McAlpine (tenor)
London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra/Georg Solti
rec. Kingsway Hall, London, November 1952-April 1955. ADD. Mono
ELOQUENCE 480 6599 [63:57 + 58:00]

Australian Eloquence is a label that has been under the benevolent hand of Cyrus Meyer-Homji since its inception some ten-plus years ago. During that time it has had the run of the Decca, Philips & Deutsche Grammophon archives and has made hay from the outset. The Eloquence harvest has continued with such industry that it is no wonder that we have for some time been deep into the mono 'shelving'. That's the case here with recordings first issued on old LXT long-players from 1952 to 1955.

Quite apart from their intrinsic musical merits these pieces - especially the Kodály - are sound spectaculars which can really bloom in stereo. By contrast these are early LP era monophonic recordings. They are the products of producer John Culshaw and engineers James Walker and Kenneth Wilkinson - Decca's technical-musical aristocracy. Is this pair of discs only for scholars of performance and recording practice, the curious, the completist for these composers, for Solti, for Decca FFRR sound and those of a certain age and nostalgic tendency? That's a significant agglomeration of constituencies anyway. The answer is yes but once you are keyed in to the sound there is a world of pleasure to be had from these two hours. Clearly Decca themselves thought highly enough of them to include two 1955 examples (Háry János and Music for strings, percussion and celesta) in their Decca 'Mono Years' (1944-56) set as CD 47.

Having surveyed Solti's way, in the 1960s, with Bartók across a two-CD set allotted to the Chicagoans and the LSO, Australian Eloquence now turn to about two hours of Kodály and Bartók. These LPO versions pre-date the Kodály Decca recordings of Kertesz and Dorati and this conductor's own later efforts from the mid-1960s onwards.

Solti's Kodály is very highly coloured and his Decca engineers were clearly of the same mind. Listen to the cimbalom and the trumpet in the János Suite (trs 3 and 4). No-one could ever call this faceless music-making. The tracking is generous; praise is due for tracking the folksy Peacock Variations into six access points. Unusually enough Psalmus Hungaricus is sung - and very well sung by the London Philharmonic Choir - in English although I have heard tenors more caught up in the patriotic fervour than William McAlpine. The Galanta Dances are superbly done: hoarse and intense. The sound for this work has a slightly softer yielding edge than that for the János suite. Solti and the LPO produce a rip-tide in terms of the pulse - a resplendent dizzying whirl. The two Bartók works? The 1952 Dance Suite was one of Solti's earliest ventures. It has a typically nervy feral feel here and although the extreme highs are strung out and steely that effect is not out of place here. These two works also leap out at you when they are at their most subtly coloured as in the hieratic Adagio of the Music for strings, percussion and celesta (CD 2 tr. 14).

The sound generally has plenty of stopping power and an open acoustic perspective. This comes with a hyper-brilliance that bears a tendency toward hardness - not altogether surprising given these tapes' sixty-plus years. All of the sessions were held in the fabled Kingsway Hall, which has obvious rewards for listeners' ears.

The set is sensibly packaged in a single width case and the design is consistent with the Eloquence standard. How good it is that having hit on an apt 'look and feel' this label has stuck with it.

The purposeful and readable notes are by Raymond Tuttle.

Historical mono recordings with drawing power.

Rob Barnett

 

 




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