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László LAJTHA (1892-1963)
Symphonie “Les Soli” for String Orchestra, Harp and Percussion, op. 33 (1941) [31:29]
Sinfonietta No. 1, op. 43 (1946) [19:45]
Sinfonietta No. 2, op. 62 (1956) [24:05]
Budapest Chamber Symphony/Simone Fontanelli (op. 33), Imre Rohmann (op. 43), Péter Csaba (op. 62)
rec. live, Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 8 December 2012 (op. 43), 26 January 2013, (op. 62) and 23 February 2013 (op. 33)

László Lajtha counted Bartók amonst his teachers at the Budapest Music Academy, spent time in Paris absorbing a culture that included Debussy, Ravel and Stravinsky, forging a promising career as a composer and pianist that was interrupted by the First World War. Lajtha was working in London when the Communist regime took over in Hungary in 1948, but despite the risks he returned home to Budapest. This decisive moment had a tragic effect. With his passport withdrawn for years and his music suppressed after his support for the 1956 uprising, Lajtha’s work became an effort of triumph over adversity.

The first of these three superbly crafted works, “Les Soli” bears the title Symphony, though it is not included in the canon of symphonies recently re-released from Marco Polo onto the Naxos label. With a classical four-movement structure it certainly has the dimensions and scale of a symphony, but with the extended solos to which its title refers its effect is more a ‘concerto for strings’. The lively outer movements have solo parts for the double-bass and violin respectively, the second is a homage to Watteau that uses the viola to illustrate gently wistful imagery, and the third is a Pastorale d’automne with a lovely cello solo. This is appealing and entertaining music that has plenty of depth and substance, the percussion adding a sprinkle of magic or accenting subtle touches of drama.

The two Sinfoniettas have both been recorded before but not so you would have noticed. Hungaraton released the Sinfonietta No. 1 with the Hungarian Chamber Orchestra in 2014, and there was a Koch Schwann recording of Op. 62 that has long been out of print. The popular Sinfonietta No. 1 is light in mood with its feet in the classical world of Mozart and Haydn, filtered through a translucent and highly effective blend of Hungarian folk music influences and French colouration.

The Sinfonietta No. 2 begins cheerfully enough, but it is hard not to reflect on the “difficult times” people were undergoing in Hungary at the time it was composed, to say the least. There are hints of Bartók throughout, with dance rhythms and melodies in the first movement. The central slow movement has the atmosphere of a lament, of events and people recollected, at times in sorrow and at others with moments of heroism. The finale is a swift and bracing prestissimo with plenty of virtuoso challenges for the players as they negotiate perpetuum mobile figurations ornamented with close-interval melodic shapes and folk-music influenced rhythmic character.

This is a well-recorded and nicely presented album from the Budapest Music Center. I can imagine the trickiest violin passages in these pieces being played with a little more control at times, but the performances are committed and highly enjoyable. This is a valuable contribution in raising the profile of one of Hungary’s best composers.

Dominy Clements

Previous reviews: Hubert Culot ~ Stephen Greenbank



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