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Leó WEINER (1885-1960)
Complete Works for Orchestra - Volume 2
Toldi, Symphonic Poem op. 43 (1952)
Budapest Symphony Orchestra MÁV / Valéria Csányi
rec. 2017, Studio 6, Hungarian Radio, Budapest
NAXOS 8.573847 [64:49]

Who would have thought it? Almost a decade after attempting a review of Weiner’s Toldi here I am listening to a different recording of the same work by other Hungarian performers and on an international label. The improbability extends to the work itself: an orchestral tone poem written in 1952 although he kept operating on the score until 1957. It’s in 12 parts and times out at more than an hour. There are twelve tracks so if you want to follow the plot you can. Frankly, though, you would do better to take on board the broad arc of the adventures but otherwise let the music work its way rather as you would with Janáček’s Taras Bulba. The earlier disc’s account of Toldi has sixteen tracks but this is only because Hungaroton divided up some of the movements; there’s no additional music there. The movements are:

I. The Poet Muses
II. Merrymaking, Feast in Nagyfalu
III. The Wooden Spears Whirled in their hands
IV. Miklós is in Hiding
V. Miklós fights two wolves
VI. Miklós lays the wolves Beside György’s bed
VII. Thunderstorm - In the Graveyard
VIII. King Louis Gives an Audience
IX. Moonlight - Miklós stops the Raging Bull
X. Bence Finds Miklós Again
XI. A Crowd is Gathering on both banks of the Danube
XII. The King sends for the Victorious Warrior and learns that it is Toldi.

These “Twelve orchestral pictures after the epic poem by János Arany” represent a Hungarian composer-music educator who when he wrote music looked back in time and sideways. The music, here most vividly recorded, is tuneful with a folk-like dancing pastoral way; a touch of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances in track 10. The whole thing, with its mix of rustic innocence and melodrama, reminded me of Jaromir Weinberger (his Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree Variations), Kodály (Symphony, Concerto for Orchestra and Summer Evening), the folksy concert-hall works of Miklós Rózsa, the tone poems of Siegfried Wagner and of the more bucolic aspects of Franz Schmidt (Husarenlied Variations). Do not expect Weiner to deliver a Bartók-like finish; there’s no trace of any influence from Bartók’s mature works - perhaps Kossuth but that’s about it. The work’s airy textures add to the wide-sky romantic nationalism. It’s performed with mordant vitality and the brass are by no means reticent. Each movement has a title and each ‘picture’ is linked to the picaresque escapades of Miklós Toldi as recounted by Arany. Toldi acquits himself heroically in many adventures. There is no shadow of irony or caricature or rebellion. He is clearly no Schweik, János, Beckus, Eulenspiegel or Quixote. Instead he is a square-on straight-faced hero portrayed in terms, romantic and heroic, a little like Ilya Mouramets but without Gliere’s colossal orchestra and extravagance and like Strauss in Heldenleben without Strauss’s excesses or bile towards his critics.

The recording - and it’s a model of poetry and brilliance - was made with funding from Buda’s House of Arts, the Hungarian Academy of Arts, Hungary’s Ministry of Human Resources, and the Advisory Board of the Weiner Trustee, Liszt Academy, Budapest

This CD advocates Weiner well. If you hanker after more of him then there is also a Chandos CD and various entries on Hungaroton: the Violin Concertos (HCD32185), Csongor es Tünde suite (HCD31740) and Divertimentos (HCD32424). Since this is vol. 2 of a Weiner series you can also stick with this Budapest orchestra and conductor Valéria Csányi on Naxos’s first volume (Csongor es Tünde).
Rob Barnett

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