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László LAJTHA (1892-1963)
Symphony No. 4 ‘Spring’, Op. 52 (1951) [26.10]
Suite No.2, Op. 38 (1943) [25.28]
Symphony No. 3, Op. 45 (1948) [22.37]
Nicolás Pasquet (conductor)
Pécs Symphony Orchestra
rec. Ferenc Liszt Concert Hall, Pécs, Hungary, September 1995.
NAXOS 8.573645 [74.15]

This is the second recording in this reissued series I have reviewed – the other was the First Symphony, coupled with the Opus 19 Suite pour orchestra, and the more impressive In Memoriam (review). There was much to enjoy on that CD, first issued, like this one, on the sister Marco Polo label, some 20 years ago.

I find myself with similar reservations this time around. All the music demonstrates extraordinary facility, a keen ear for orchestration, superb technical skill, but there is something almost indefinable missing. One way to express it would be in terms of an absence of distinctive personality, the sense we get with a truly great composer of something being said that is unique. Perhaps I am trying to reflect the difference between cleverness or great talent and true genius, but there are lesser composers whose music could not be by anyone else.

Perhaps something of a clue to the elusive quality can be found in the Third Symphony, a two movement work composed in London. Its origin was a film score for Murder in the Cathedral, and, to be blunt, the music sounds like something for film, even down to the tubular bells. Cast in three movements, it evokes different moods, but in a generalised way. Adrian Boult gave the premičre, in London. One can understand very well the composer’s facility in writing music for film.

The Second Suite comes from a ballet, Le bosquet des quatre Dieux. This suite appears to be all that remains of the original, which was never performed. Some have heard these pieces, which are about Zeus, Hermes and their seduction of earthly maidens as being in some way satirical commentary on Hitler, but other than the date of its composition, there seems no obvious reason to read that intention into the music. It is best heard on its own terms, as a tuneful and very well-made piece.

The Fourth Symphony, which opens the CD, is an attractive and lively work, inventive and unclouded, in three movements. It is odd that the Communist government attacked its apparent subjectivism – perhaps general cheeriness seemed at odds with proletarian earnestness.

In short, this is a CD which will give much pleasure. Performances are committed and idiomatic, and the CD is valuable also in reminding us of the riches of twentieth century Hungarian music. I have just a niggle about the lack of distinctive personality, but that should not prevent others from sampling and enjoying this.

Michael Wilkinson
Previous reviews: Jim Westhead ~ Bob Stevenson



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