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László LAJTHA (1892–1963)
Orchestral Works - Volume 6
Symphony No. 8, Op. 66 (1959) [38:32]
Symphony No. 9, Op. 67 (1962) [26:25]
Pécs Symphony Orchestra/Nicolás Pasquet
rec. 1996, Ferenc Liszt Concert Hall, Pecs
Previously released as Marco Polo 8.223673
NAXOS 8.573648 [64:57]

Lajtha, for all his Hungarian nationality, was keyed strongly into French culture. He spent time in Paris and immersed himself in its musical life. Paris returned his love with loyalty. His publisher was the Paris-based Claude Leduc. The movements of his symphonies are, by and large, designated with French names.

This disc sees Naxos completing its series of reissues of CDs originally gaining currency on Marco Polo in the 1990s. The other Naxos discs are: Symphony 1: 8.573643 - review; Symphony 2: 8.573644 - review; Symphonies 3 and 4: 8.573645 - review; Symphonies 5 and 6: 8.573646 - review; Symphony 7:  8.573647 - review.

The Eighth Symphony was given its non-Hungarian premiere in Paris on 16 May 1961 by the Orchestre National at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. There it was conducted by Manuel Rosenthal. Sadly, between 1948 and 1962, the composer was, with one exception, prevented from travelling outside Hungary so he could not be present. The actual first performance occurred on 21 May 1960 with the Hungarian State Concert Orchestra conducted by Lajtha’s pupil, János Ferencsik.

The Eight starts out by being one of Lajtha's most approachable scores. The four movements across 38+ minutes are: I. Allègre et léger; II. Lent et triste; III. Très agité et toujours angoissé; IV. Violent et tourmenté. The first of these is warmly cocooned and of a smiling demeanour. The mood is voiced as often as not by idyllic woodwind solos. The southern winds of France's Mediterranean seaboard seem to warm its soul. The Lent et triste is sad indeed with progress eased a little by the woodwind. It again includes Lajtha's trademark saxophone solo - a real predilection of his. The movement is occasionally riven with violent brief expostulations.

The third movement - Très agité et toujours angoissé - is a shivering and desperate affair. It's strong writing is rather like Tapiola but even more furiously hunted. Sinister factions and inconsolable musings keep disturbing any hope of tranquillity near these dark pools and poisonous lagoons.

The composer will not let the listener relax as the fourth movement, Violent et tourmenté, marches in. This heaves with conflict somewhat in the manner of RVW 4 and 6. At 1:46 there is a transitory clarinet solo that looks back with affection to the first movement. Even then a cold sea washes to and fro in the backdrop. Victory flecks some of this music but its never without a tragic pull. The mood blackens further and leering devils bark out while Tartarus yawns and roars.

The Ninth Symphony, premiered at the Théâtre des Champs Élysées on 2 May 1963 after the composer’s death, was performed by the French Radio Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Louis Soltesz. The Hungarian premiere took place on 6 April 1964 at the hands of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by János Ferencsik. It was Ferencsik and the Hungarian State Symphony Orchestra who introduced me to Lajtha in a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of the Ninth Symphony on 3 July 1977.

The Ninth is much shorter than the Eighth: two Vites frame a Lento. It's a serious piece but more noble and hopeful than the Eighth. It has a mood in in common with parts of certain British symphonies: Bax 5 and much of RVW 4, Alwyn 3 and Arnold 6, 7 and 9. The opening Vite is a searing structure with massed violins (the Pécs Orchestra in magnificent form) cutting through the pounding brass and all that desolation. The central Lento is subdued. Our hero, once borne high on the wings of hope, is now chastened by tragedy but not completely subdued. There is some tender pianissimo work for the strings and again the eloquent saxophone enters to counter the leering devils. The concluding Vite returns to the chaffing and chafing Tapiola string-rush of the Eighth Symphony's third movement. Epic brass writing strides in with an abrasive edged majesty. At the end, the strings are given a lovely extended melody. It's one of those tunes carried forward with generous draughts of oxygen and great suppleness. For a moment it reminded me of that blessed melody at the close of Prokofiev's Seventh Symphony. It ends in a smashing climax. There is much in this symphony to celebrate as it seduces your affections.

The contextual notes are by Emöke Solymosi Tari. They serve their purpose well and are in English-only. The translation is by Nicholas Jenkins.

As I said when I reviewed this disc in its Marco Polo garb in 1999: "recording engineers and acoustic architects of the world should be flying to Pécs to use and study this fine concert hall. The sound of this recording is magnificent."

There's magnificence and beauty among the blistering tragedy of these two symphonies of the last century.

Rob Barnett

Previous review (Marco Polo): Rob Barnett



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