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Sándor VERESS (1907-1992)
String Quartet No. 1 (1931) [16:58]
String Quartet No. 2 (1937) [27:21]
Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello (1954) [20:31]
Doelen Quartet Rotterdam
rec. 2012, Deutschlandfunk Kammermusiksaal, Cologne
Includes 2 SACDs of spoken material: Sándor Veress reads Vocal and Instrumental Music in Hungarian Villages, broadcast in 1975 on Radio DRS, in mono and Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Claudio Veress
CYBELE RECORDS SACD KIG009[3 discs: 222:03]

I reviewed Veress’ String Quartets when they appeared on Toccata in expressively and technically accomplished performances from the Basel String Quiartet (see review). The coupling there was the 1961 Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra which made programmatic sense because of the direct involvement of the quartet. But Cybele has preferred instead to include the 1954 String Trio in the context of a three-CD documentary and historical collection, in their Künstler im Gespräch series, which contextualizes the music in the light of spoken reminiscences and the use of original Hungarian folksong recordings.

To reprise briefly, the Hungarian composer Sándor Veress studied in Budapest with Kodály and Bartók and was also one of the latter’s assistants on Bartók’s ethnological field trips to collect examples of folk-music. The 1930s brought him some prominence, gained through performances at ISCM Festivals and elsewhere. It was also the decade in which he wrote his two numbered string quartets.

The First Quartet dates from 1931 but wasn’t published until 1953. It’s a strongly argued and technically accomplished work for a 23-year old composer. The opening is arresting and the music moves between rather withdrawn introspection and a sweepingly taut, drivingly fast section, reminiscent of Bartók’s own Third Quartet. Sonorities in the central movement are inclined to be austere, even chilly - watchful and reflective, certainly. These suggest rather an Olympian view but this is swept aside in the finale in which there is some deliciously evocative folk fiddling to be heard, assuredly redolent of his earlier musicological trips. Veress was firmly committed to native folk traditions and nowhere more explicitly so than in this movement. The village band drones offer fiery dynamism.

The Second Quartet was written between 1936 and early 1937. It was with this work that he felt he had finally achieved a truly personal stamp. Perhaps this is to do with the sense of integration and narrative that he achieves here. The music opens briskly and with an almost impatient sense of direction, the melodies mosaic-like in their placement; firefly incident and a true sense of colour is duly generated. The slow movement is strongly melancholic, veiled in expressive, quiet gestures, occasionally nightmarish and desolate in feeling. The finale’s dramatic dance or March themes offer powerful dissonances, twisting and curling, as the music dissolves briefly before reassembling for the dynamic close. This is a powerful work, a more complete achievement than the earlier quartet, being more balanced and more edgy.

The String Trio was written in Switzerland. Here, design and a moving quotient of expression go hand-in-hand, predicated on Veress’ use of the tone row. Part austere, part incrementally urgent this bipartite work – slow, fast - which perhaps hearkens back to the Hungarian scheme of his past, is a splendid realisation of his assimilation of folk material through the medium of 12-tone procedure. That second movement’s rhythmically propulsive intensity is genuinely exciting and played here with real commitment and tonal fire.

The Doelen Quartet take rather swifter tempi – especially in the Second Quartet – to those of the Basel group: it brings just a shade more vitality to the readings and would be my preferred option.

The documentary material includes Sándor Veress reading Vocal and Instrumental Music in Hungarian Villages, broadcast in 1975 on Radio DRS, in mono and Mirjam Wiesemann in conversation with Claudio Veress, the composer’s son. These two CDs are in German and will reward the German speaker but will frustrate those who can’t cope. There are splendid essays in the extensive booklet, in German and English, that support and amplify Veress’ biography and musical life, as well as very well reproduced photographs.

Given the documentary nature of this set, it may well be that the balance tips to alternative performances of the quartets, even though those of the Doelen are exemplary, as is the recorded sound.

Jonathan Woolf

Previous review: Dominy Clements



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