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László LAJTHA (1892-1963)
Symphony No.4 “Spring” Op.52 [26.10]
Suite No.2 Op.38 [25.28]
Symphony No.3 Op.45 [22.37]
Pécs Symphony Orchestra/ Nicolás Pasquet
rec. Ferenc Liszt Concert Hall, Pecs (Hungary) September 1995
NAXOS 8.573645 [74.15]

This CD is a reissue of a Marco Polo disc recorded in 1995. László Lathja, a Hungarian who died in 1963, spent many of his active compositional years in his homeland as it suffered severe political upheavals. He experienced devastating interference in his artistic efforts from the Communists, whose appalling diatribes against ‘formalism’ enabled anyone not in political favour to be destructively criticised. In fact, Social Realism, the form in which composers were expected to write, had nothing to do with musical aesthetics; it was simply a method of extending political control over musical compositions to support the power of the state

The first work on the disk is Lathja’s Fourth Symphony of 1951, a sunny, mildly neoclassical work with the second half of the first movement being particularly beautiful. Perhaps unsurprisingly I can detect traces of Bartok at his least aggressive, and Kodaly too. Quite how any critic could describe this inoffensive piece – entitled ‘Spring’ – as being of ‘undesirable form’ and of ‘subjective spirit’, is beyond me; but then the critic would be dependent on the Communists for his salary, which could be withdrawn at a moment’s notice.

The Suite No 2 of 1943 follows and is the remnants of a ballet The Grove of Four Gods which was never performed. It is in four movements, the first of which reminds me a little of Martinu in its edgy energy. The second is a vivacious prestissimo with an occasional interjection of brass, and the lyrical molto quieto, which sits at the heart of the suite probably describes the love interest in the original ballet, and is very beautiful but shows up some imprecision in the strings. The last movement (vivace) consists of a series of quick dances representing a scene of feasting.

Lajtha’s Third Symphony rounds off the CD. Composed in 1947; it is in two movements and is derived from a film score for T.S.Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral. The first movement is mostly quiet, beginning with a clarinet solo with other instruments gradually joining in. I have never seen the play, but I surmise that it is a gloomy piece of work, certainly the word ‘oppressive’ springs to mind as I listen to it. Exposed strings are again revealed as not being quite together for lengthy periods. The last movement builds up tension, as though we are witnessing a chase, interrupted by short periods of stillness. I presume that this effect comes from the build up to the murder of Thomas Becket, it is certainly striking and the work ends with a loud tympani ‘thud’.

The recording is clear and the orchestra plays pretty well with some raggedness showing through now and then, presumably reflecting their lack of familiarity with the music. Even when the recording was made, thirty two years after Lajtha’s death, his music was not well known even in his native land. Perhaps it is better known now, because back in 1995, the iron curtain and its associated cultural depression had only fallen four years earlier. The booklet notes are very informative.

Jim Westhead



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