Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
Dances of Galánta (1933) [17:18]
Concerto for Orchestra (1940) [19:22]
Variations on a Hungarian Folk Song, ‘The Peacock’ (1939) [26:37]
Dances of Marosszék (1929) [13:37]
Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra/JoAnn Falletta
rec. 2017, Kleinhans Music Hall, Buffalo, New York
NAXOS 8.573838 [77:17]
Kodály generally has not received the same amount of international acclaim that his fellow countryman Bartók has. It is true that Bartók was the greater innovator and produced a larger volume of major works in a variety of genres. Kodály, nevertheless, contributed a number of orchestral and choral masterpieces, as well as several wonderful chamber works for cello, and is universally recognized as a music educator. His orchestral oeuvre is instantly recognizable by its colourful orchestration and memorable tunes based on or resembling folk melodies of his native Hungary. While never out of the catalogue, the works on this disc deserve a new recording—especially the Concerto for Orchestra which has received less exposure than the other pieces.
When one thinks of a concerto for orchestra, Bartók’s popular work naturally comes to mind. Kodály’s Concerto for Orchestra, which predates Bartók’s by a few years, is quite different in its form. It is more of a concerto grosso in the Baroque manner where solo roles for several performers are combined in a unified structure. The piece alternates fast jovial dance sections with more pensive ones, the latter first introduced by a string quartet. These slow sections comprise the greater part of the work, and the concerto concludes in a coda with snappy rhythms and a burst of brass. While the concerto perhaps does not possess the memorable tunes of the other pieces on this programme, it is nonetheless vividly orchestrated and pleasing to hear. It certainly receives a splendid performance here by JoAnn Falletta and the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Of the other works on the disc, I used two earlier recordings that contain my reference versions for comparison. For the popular Dances of Galánta they are by István Kertész and the London Symphony (Decca) and Iván Fischer and the Budapest Festival Orchestra (Philips). Falletta’s treatment of these dances is broader than those others, but makes up in lyricism and warmth what it lacks in verve in the faster parts of the score. She is given full-bodied sound that enhances the richness of the strings and yet brings out all the character in the winds. The same is true for the somewhat less often encountered Dances of Marosszék. Falletta may not be as energetic as Fischer, on the same disc with the Dances of Galánta, but her account is sufficiently ebullient when required. Her violin solo, followed by double basses, in the middle of the piece is outstanding, as is the beautiful horn solo later in the work. Some may miss the discreet portamento that Fischer applies in the Budapest strings, but it is a small price to pay for such a warm-hearted performance.
The Peacock Variations are for me the highlight of this CD. In many ways this work is more like a concerto for orchestra in the Bartók sense than Kodály’s own concerto. It requires a virtuoso orchestra and is filled with wonderful solos by the musicians. In this regard, the Buffalo Philharmonic need not fear comparison with its more famous counterparts, such as the London Symphony in Kertész’s Decca recording. Naxos has wisely provided eighteen separate tracks for the piece, one for each variation as well as the introduction (The Peacock song) and Finale. Falletta really nails the work, doing justice to both the poetry and power of the piece. There are too many outstanding contributions by the individual orchestra members and sections to name them all. Some, which come to mind, are the clarinet and bassoon duet in the introduction, the oboe and flute in the first variation, the trombones and other lower brass in the fifth variation, the English horn in the eleventh, and the high flute’s “bird calls,” accompanied by harp in the fourteenth. Overall, this account equals any other I have heard.
Also deserving special mention is the comprehensive analysis of each work by Edward Yadzinski in the CD booklet. Along with Naxos’s budget price and top notch recording, the fact that the Concerto for Orchestra is on the disc rather than the ubiquitous Háry János Suite makes it all the more collectible. This disc may not supplant either Fischer or Kertész in my estimation for their native propensities, but it is different enough and valuable in its own right to join them in this repertoire.
Previous review: Richard Hanlon