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Alexander MOYZES (1906-1984)
Dances from Slovakia
Dances from Gemer, Op. 51 (1955) [16.26]
Down the River Váh, Op. 26 (1935/45) [23.09]
Pohronie Dances, Op. 43 (1950) [31.21]
Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Ondrej Lenárd
rec. 1989, Concert Hall of Slovak Radio, Bratislava, Slovakia
NAXOS 8.555477 [71.12]

It sometimes seems as if composers from central Europe are expected to write sets of Symphonic Dances, almost as Scholastic philosophers had the provide commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. But, just as the Sentences acted as a discipline to remind scholars of central theological questions, so dance is essential to the rootedness of Czech, Slovak and Hungarian composers. And when they are as striking as those of Moyzes, there is nothing dry or limited in the enterprise.

This welcome reissue, which first appeared on Marco Polo 8.223278 is a valuable addition to the Naxos series of Moyzes’ orchestral works. The dances, from different stages in his career, are immediately attractive, colourfully orchestrated and distinctive in character.

The earliest set, Down the River Váh, is especially interesting. Its origins were a commission to write incidental music for a radio programme on a power station on the Váh. The 1945 version was an expansion from four movements to five, with expansion to a full orchestra. The model of the final Suite was Vlatava: tracing the river from its source to its eventual flowing into the Danube, Moyzes provided an explicit programme, reproduced in the accompanying notes. ‘Dances’ is perhaps too simple a term, and certainly misleading: dance elements are present in all movements, but it is wiser to think of these as short tone poems, by turns dramatic and bucolic, superbly orchestrated. Moyzes was a student of Novák, and the nationalist spirit is strong. There are lovely moments, not least in the opening of the second movement ‘From Liptov to Orava’, or the Finale, ‘Into the Danube’s Embrace’. Overall, it is intrinsically fascinating and enjoyable.

Dances from Gemer are genuinely dances, based on the folk music of the Gemer region of Southern Slovakia. The orchestra includes a cimbalom, a characteristic Central European instrument - a kind of jumbo dulcimer with hammered steel strings. The four dances are strongly characterised, with piquant orchestration and rhythmic excitement. The mood is less serious than in the earlier work, but as examples of symphonic dance, they are masterly.

The Pohronie Dances – another set of four, display similar features. The inspiration comes from the Hron countryside, with dances for highwaymen, a maiden, woodsmen and finally a merry village celebrating after work. These are some of the longest pieces on the CD, and they gain from the development this makes possible. There is something of the sinfonietta about the whole work, with music both striking and attractive.

The thirty-year-old digital sound does not detract from enjoyment in any way, despite occasional slight congestion of orchestral sound in a couple of places. Ondrej Lenárd and his orchestra seem to have this music in their bones, and one senses their pleasure in the playing.

Michael Wilkinson

Previous review: Rob Barnett

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