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Tivadar SZÁNTÓ (1877-1934)
Complete Piano Works - Volume 1
Études Orientales, Op.1 (c.1903) [12:51]
Ballade in C minor, Op.2 (c.1903) [13:06]
Dramatic Elegy in F sharp major, Op.3 (1904) [9:42]
Lamentation, Op.4 (1905-10) [22:11]
Stravinsky – suite of five pieces from the ballet Petrushka [12:49]
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. December 2016, Opus Dissonus Studios

Complete Piano Works - Volume 2
Variations and finale on a Hungarian Popular Theme (1915) [19:48]
In Japan (1922) [5:46]
Contrasts (1911) [23:40]
Two Japanese Melodies (from the opera Taifun) (1924) [5:41]
Four New Pieces (1931) [13:00]
Stravinsky – Marche chinoise from Le Rossignol [3:32]
Artur Cimirro (piano)
rec. December 2016, Opus Dissonus Studios

Tivadar Szántó was born, as Bartók once sarcastically noted in a letter, Theodor Smulevic, though I don’t know if this supports the sleeve note contention that Bartók disliked his compatriot ‘for his Jewish origins’. After all, wasn’t Szigeti – born ‘Joseph Singer’ - and Bartók’s great friend, Jewish? Though born in Vienna, Szántó studied in Budapest, taking piano and composition lessons at the conservatoire. When he was 21, however, he met Busoni, who was to become his greatest influence both as a performer and a composer. Szántó’s name has faded pretty thoroughly but where it may be remembered is in his association with Delius. He engineered the first meeting of Ravel and Delius and his rewriting of the solo part of Delius’ Piano Concerto is still recalled.

Szántó was held in great admiration by a raft of notables, from Debussy and Busoni through Casella, Dohnányi and Kodály to Florent Schmitt and beyond. These two discs contain his surviving piano music but despite being admired by other piano titans such as von Sauer, Godowsky and Isidor Phillip, it was largely left to the composer-executant to play his works in concert. They are programmed largely chronologically and in opus number to allow one a sweeping near three decade overview of music dating from 1903 to 1931.

The vogue for the Japanese and pentatonic has seeped strongly into the Busoni-dedicated opening movement of the four-movement Études Orientales, Op.1, a compact and contrastive affair. The notes speak of the Ballade in C minor as ‘enigmatic’ but don’t expand on that. It’s rather Busoni-Lisztian in fact, with a chorale-like theme and some romanticist roulades to remind one that despite his modernist credentials he was at this stage still capable of expressive elements of late-Romanticism. Liszt is once again a presence in the Dramatic Elegie, but its sense of striving drama is somewhat compromised by a triumphalist, rather showy element. Much more convincing is the three-movement Lamentation, Op.4, which mines a fine narrative full of folklore, cimbalom-imitation, rich chording, Lisztian drama and a rather lugubrious threnody to conclude. His crisp and persuasive transcription of movements, some re-ordered, from Petrushka reminds one that he was not averse to paying homage to his slightly younger contemporary. In the second disc there’s an excellent and very orchestral sounding transcription of Le Rossignol,
The Variations and Finale on a Popular Hungarian Theme was dedicated to Dohnányi and encloses some deft, lyrical and virtuosic writing as well as some, perhaps understandable showboating devices. The abruptness of mood between variations is sometimes bewildering but there is mood, texture, colour, rhythmic vivacity and quirky dance music to entertain and occasionally beguile the listener. In Japan reprises those exotic elements that suffused his Op.1 but of far greater significance is Contrasts in which the first section plays with obsessive repetitions couched in a vaguely impressionistic language, and logically dedicated to Debussy. There are threnodic and funereal associations, almost brittle in place, in the second panel, ending in echo-laden bleakness. The third section was dedicated to Ravel and sports plenty of pedal effects whilst the final section is lighter and more verdant. However inconsistent this is certainly an intriguing cycle. There are two fine if brief segments from his 1924 opera Taifun, which Ravel assisted in getting performed. Ostinato writing leads one strongly to wonder what happened to the opera. The final pieces date from 1931 and include some somewhat stylised Hungarian elements, perhaps reminiscent of Bydlo.

Artur Cimirro is the intrepid pianist and he performs with dedication, panache and sympathy. He is Brazilian which explains why the booklet notes are in English and Portuguese. Those notes are very helpful, though the recording quality can sometimes be somewhat unremitting. There’s not a great deal of bloom.

My recommendation is that this is more a case of ‘sift and select’ than ‘buy them both’. For all the early derivativeness and the allure of the East, Szántó has a strong personality if not necessarily an ideally strong musical identity.

Jonathan Woolf



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