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Végh in his Mother Tongue
Zoltán KODÁLY (1882-1967)
String Quartet No. 2, Op. 10 (1916-18) [16:02]
Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
String Quartet No.6, BB 119 (1939) [31:58]
Sándor VERESS (1907-1999)
Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra (1961) [24:45]
Violin Concerto (1939/48) [27:16]
Four Transylvanian Dances (1943-49) [14:20]
Robert VOLKMANN (1815-1883)
Serenade No.2 in F major, Op.63 (pub 1869) [11:53]
Andor LOSONCZY (1932-2018)
Passacaglia [9:13]
Jenő TAKÁCS (1902-2005)
Passacaglia for string orchestra, Op.73 (1960) [13:26]
Végh Quartet: Sándor Végh (violin)
Basle Chamber Orchestra/Paul Sacher
Berne State Orchestra/Luc Balmer
Camerata Salzburg/Sándor Végh
rec. 1954-84
BMC CD263 [72:45 + 76:07]

The mother tongue is of course Hungarian and as before in this invigorating series of twofers, it reveals different elements of the art of Sándor Végh.

The first is as leader of his eponymous quartet. The Kodály Second Quartet was broadcast in 1958 by WDR, the Bartók Sixth four years earlier in 1954 by SRF. Végh’s musical association with Kodály went back to his student days at the Music Academy in Budapest where he took composition lessons with the older man, the lexicon of whose music became revealed to Végh over this period and beyond. The quartet had been completed a decade before he had won the Reményi Prize and was therefore very new repertoire when Végh was a student. By the time of this radio broadcast all its elements of quasi-recitative, folkloric episodes and giocoso vitality were firmly established in the interpretive gestures of the group and are superbly realised here. It sits alongside the Decca LP they made of it in 1954 and I rather prefer it to the Hungarian Quartet performance of 1952, housed in a Music and Arts box, because of the greater tensile drive generated by the Végh in the finale.

Végh first came into sustained contact with Bartók when the composer oversaw rehearsals for the Végh’s performance of Quartet No.5 of which the ensemble gave the premičre. Their performance of No.6 has been preserved on a Valois LP and they play with fluent elegance in this broadcast with an especially beautifully textured and rhythmically vivid March movement. The pizzicati of the Burletta are brilliantly coordinated and the pathos of the Mesto finale vested in splendid phraseology. For another viewpoint, their compatriots in the Hungarian Quartet are both faster and more tangibly terse.

Végh and Sándor Veress were fellow students and great friends and it’s no surprise that Veress dedicated music to his friend and the quartet. There is the world premičre of Veress’ Concerto for string quartet and orchestra with the Basle Chamber Orchestra and Paul Sacher (Radio Basle, January 1962). It’s a concerto grosso affair, sonorous but razory, hard hitting in part but occasionally diaphanous. Full of colour, rhythm and the occasional eruption and entertainingly orchestrated, it’s a wonder that this isn’t more often recorded or performed in concert. For a modern slant Toccata’s all-Veress disc is the place to start (see review). Both ensembles take almost exactly the same tempi.

The second disc contains the Violin Concerto Veress dedicated to Végh and which he plays here in December 1959 with the Berne State Orchestra and Luc Balmer. Written just before the War but revised a decade later, it’s in three movements, the first of which is an affecting Aria with a refined, long-breathed elegiac quality lightened, as so often in Veress, by folkloric elements in the orchestra. There is plenty for the soloist to negotiate and equally a panoply of orchestral colours to enjoy. There’s even a Shostakovich-like figure in the finale, where the cadenza leads on to a boisterous conclusion complete with fulsome percussive statements. Végh negotiates the work splendidly as it’s difficult to keep fully in tune in the first movement.

Veress was a piano student of Bartók and the Transylvanian Dances do reflect something of that inheritance. Three were composed in 1943, the fourth dance following in 1949. These aren’t really folkloric settings as such but examples of Veress’ idiomatic way of summoning up folk evocations. These richly coloured and exciting pieces, full of charm and vivacity, are played by the Camerata Salzburg, all of whom were Végh students. They also play Robert Volkmann’s Serenade No.2, a trimly characterised four-movement work replete with Waltz and March themes. The final two works are both orchestral Passacaglias. Andor Losonczy taught at the Salzburg Mozarteum at the same time as Végh and his Passacaglia is notably well-structured ending in taut ruminative contemplation. Jenő Takács was Losonczy’s composition teacher and his Passacaglia is more intense than his student’s work, with clever off-beat patterns and pizzicato episodes and plenty of cumulative intensity. Both are wonderfully played.

Most of the booklet text is duplicated throughout the series but not all. Each twofer has a little information about the works performed. The photographic reproductions are all different and it’s fascinating to watch Végh age as he poses youthfully with his quartet, with the great writer Sándor Márai, or chats animatedly with Annie Fisher, Iván Fischer, András Schiff and others.

This is a well-compiled and authoritative selection of works, finely remastered and excellently presented, and represents another satisfying, repertoire-expanding release from BMC.

Jonathan Woolf

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