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Dénes Kovács (violin)
Volume 1: Concertos
rec. 1964-78
DOREMI DHR8101-3 [3 CDs: 212:49]

The Hungarian violinist Dénes Kovács (1930-2005) was a strong presence on the Hungaroton and Qualiton labels in the 1960s and 70s. A student of Ede Zathureczky (a prominent Hubay pupil) at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, he won early success in 1955 winning the Carl Flesch competition in London. He was for a decade leader of the Hungarian Opera House orchestra, and a teacher at his alma mater, rising to the position of head of the violin department in 1959, professor in 1964 and finally, in 1968, Rector of the Academy. But his pedagogic responsibilities didn’t preclude an international career and neither did they hinder his career in the studios, abundant evidence of which exists in the first Doremi volume to be devoted to his discography.

The focus here is one the canonic element of that recorded legacy from 1964 to 1978. The Beethoven Concerto was recorded with the Hungarian State Orchestra and János Ferencsik and the result is intensely lyric, with Kovács’ tone focused and expressive. The second subject is well judged, and the Joachim cadenza played with cool authority. Phrasing in the slow movement is unforced and natural, the finale is buoyant, and the sound is excellent analogue c. 1977. For the Brahms he was joined by the Budapest Philharmonic and a frequent collaborator, Miklós Erdélyi. Once again, his gift for stressing the lyric apex of a phrase is in evidence as are his crisp attacks. This is another strong and resilient reading with the conductor pointing wind harmonies finely. Given these qualities it’s no surprise that he is completely inside the slow movement – the oboe solo here is decent but not outstanding – and he brings appropriately Hungarian vitality to the finale, masculine, fiery and with the most succulent and seductive of quick slides.

The Bach concertos, with the same accompaniments, are fluent and sufficiently light, Erdélyi ensuring no unnecessary string saturation in the slow movement of the A minor whilst Kovács varies the bow speed and weight in the corresponding movement of the E major. There’s nothing metronomic or commonplace about his phrasing. For the Double Concerto he’s joined by his young compatriot Mária Bálint, a prize winner at the Paganini competition in 1971 and the Hungarian Radio competition four years later. There’s fine rapport between the two, not least in the graceful give-and-take of the central movement, and Hungaroton’s recording ensures there’s no muddling the two soloistic voices; strands remain clear (and this can’t always be said). The final item on the second disc is Mendelssohn’s Concerto, where one finds real tenderness in phrasing and a strongly lyric slant without sentimentality. It’s never dull though it can be rather eruptive at moments exemplifying the ever present danger in this work of not ideally binding together its complex structure.

This is the third ‘archive’ recording of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto I’ve come across in as many weeks and features the excellent addition of Miklós Perényi and Anikó Szegedi. The two string players were born a generation apart but make a fine pairing and Szegedi, Budapest-born in 1938, and another alumnus of the Liszt Academy, fits in perfectly. All three soloists sit slightly ‘back’ in the acoustic but to no great detriment either to ensemble or to projection. András Korody directs the Hungarian State. It’s György Lehel who directs the two Beethoven Romances which are both nicely characterised and Gyula Németh, who also directs the Mendelssohn, conducts Tchaikovsky’s Serenade Melancolique, with which the three CD set ends.

These are very decent restorations though LP hum is noticeable from time to time, most clearly as works start. It was to me rather more noticeable in the Triple than elsewhere. Though he is hardly a household name, Kovács was an admirable musician who has a valuable discography and propagated contemporary Hungarian music as well as the more obvious pathways, notably Bartók. This box is for specialist tastes, obviously, but Kovács proves an admirable inheritor of the Hungarian tradition and an artist well deserving of this salute.

Jonathan Woolf

Johannes Brahms Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 77 (1878) [36:25]
Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra/Miklós Erdélyi
Ludwig van Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806) [41:35]
Hungarian State Orchestra/János Ferencsik
Johann Sebastian Bach: Concerto for Violin no 1 in A minor, BWV 1041 (1717-23) [14:49]
Concerto for Violin no 2 in E major, BWV 1042 (1717-23) [17:46]
Concerto for two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043 (1717-23) [16:07]
Mária Bálint (violin)/Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra/Miklós Erdélyi
Felix Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin in E minor, Op. 64 (1844) [27:52]
Hungarian State Orchestra/Gyula Németh
Ludwig van Beethoven: Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello in C major, Op. 56 "Triple Concerto"(1804) [33:26]
Miklós Perényi (cello): Anikó Szegedi (piano)
Hungarian State Orchestra/András Korody
Romance for Violin and Orchestra no 1 in G major, Op. 40 (1802) [6:55]
Romance for Violin and Orchestra no 2 in F major, Op. 50 (c 1798) [8:42]
Hungarian Radio and Television Symphony Orchestra/György Lehel
Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Sérénade mélancolique for violin and orchestra in B minor, Op. 26 (1875) [8:49]
Hungarian State Orchestra/Gyula Németh

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