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Ferenc FARKAS (1905-2000)
Orchestral Music – Volume 5
Symphonic Overture (1952)* [10:39]
Elegia (1952)* [10:05]
Concertino for Piano and Orchestra (1947)* [16:27]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)
Funérailles (orch. Farkas, 1974)* [11:49]
Planctus et consolationes (1965) [17:28]
Dances from the Mátra (1968)* [6:57]
1. Legényes (Young Men’s Dance)
2. Leánytánc (Young Women’s Dance)
3. Cigánycsárdás (Gypsy Dance)
Gábor Farkas (piano)
MÁV Symphony Orchestra/Gábor Takács-Nagy
rec. 2016/17, Hungarian Radio, Budapest
Reviewed as a 24/48 download from eClassical
Pdf booklet included
*First recording in this version

By a happy coincidence this release brings together two of this year’s most significant ‘finds’. First was this underrated composer, whose Music for Wind Ensemble impressed me so; second was the pianist Gábor Farkas – no relation – whose splendid Liszt transcriptions confirm he’s an artist to watch. And let’s not forget Toccata Classics, whose pursuit of less-well-known repertoire has brought lots of neglected music to light. Apart from this Farkas series, I must commend their traversal of Ernst Krenek’s piano concertos, with Mikhail Korzhev and the English Symphony Orchestra under Kenneth Woods; I’ve reviewed the first and second instalments.

As for the conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy, this collection marks his first appearance in the series. I’ve only encountered him once before; alas, that was in a rather disappointing video from the 2010 Verbier Festival. The MÁV Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1945 by the Hungarian State Railways (Magyar Államvasutak), is entirely new to me. They featured in Volume 1, under the direction of Péter Csaba. Incidentally, the style ‘Volume 5’ refers to the number of Toccata releases devoted to Farkas’s orchestral music; in fact, this newcomer is just the latest instalment in a multi-genre project that runs to at least 10 albums thus far.

As László Gombos points out in his admirably concise and interesting liner-notes, the symphony orchestra wasn’t Farkas’s favourite medium. Indeed, the Symphonic Overture and Elegia constitute the first two movements of the symphony he withdrew shortly after its premiere in 1952. The first, brooding and rather bass-heavy at the start, is not without rhythmic vitality, while the second is more inward. Come to think of it, there’s a panoramic energy to the overture that reminds me of Franz Waxman at his most vivid and vital. Even the elegy has its fiery flourishes. Thrilling stuff!

The sound here is big and beefy, but then that fits well with the widescreen feel of these impassioned openers. The recording is warm and fairly detailed, if a little too close for my liking; that said, it’s perfectly acceptable. Ditto this band and conductor, who dispatch these pieces with commendable thrust and enthusiasm. The tripartite Concertino has a jolly, folkloric flavour, and our pianist plays the grandiose interjections with his tongue wedged firmly in his cheek. The middle movement is light and airy, whereas the finale – possibly the weakest of the three – is something of a stylistic mélange. Also, the piano seems very bright, with a hint of jangle in the work’s more excitable moments.

Farkas orchestrated the Liszt Funérailles for Dreams of Love, Márton Keleti’s 1970 biopic of Hungary’s most celebrated composer, conductor and virtuoso. It’s predictably dark, but, as with the Symphonic Overture, it has enough momentum and interest to sustain its modest length. It has some very imposing peaks, and Farkas’s colouristic skills are really quite striking. Remarkably, he manages to infuse much of what he wrote with that unmistakable Magyar magic, and this accomplished orchestration is no exception.

The eight-movement Planctus et consolationes, which Farkas composed in memory of his friend, the Hungarian-born film director Paul Fejos, is yet another example of this composer writing, perhaps subconsciously, for the big screen. The piece, by turns bold and bereft, is certainly imaginative, but having admired several albums in the Toccata series I’m not sure I’d agree with Gombos’s assertion that this is Farkas’s masterpiece. Indeed, if the first two movements of that symphony are anything to go by, the full four could well be a better candidate. Is a complete performance and possible? If so, I’d be keen to hear it. The third movement was turned into a Scherzo sinfonico in 1970.

And what better way to end than with Dances from the Mátra, commissioned by the Eger Symphony Orchestra, whose home is near the Mátra Hills of northern Hungary. According to Gombos, the material for this short piece is drawn from Farkas’s folk-opera Vitrics, premiered in 1964. In the event, I expected the Legényes to be more virile than it is, the Leánytánc to be more coquettish, but I suspect that has more to do with the heavy-handed performance than the score itself. At least Takács-Nagy makes up for that with a feisty finale.

Not the best album in the series, but Farkas fans will want it; close, somewhat variable sound.

Dan Morgan



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